Rethinking Use of Cough Medications for Common Colds: New Cough Care Guidelines Reported by Johns Hopkins Health Alerts

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What should you take to soothe a bad cough? Johns Hopkins reports on the surprising new guidelines from The American College of Chest Physicians.

Here's some surprising news: The most effective medicines for a cough are NOT the ones which are being marketed as cough treatments.

In the latest Johns Hopkins Lung Disorders Health Alert (http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com)], their pulmonary specialists summarize the kiy findings you need to know from the latest American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) comprehensive guidelines for treating various types of cough.

COUGH/COLDS THE #1 REASON FOR A VISIT TO THE DOCTOR
Cough is the number one reason people seek medical attention. The new ACCP guidelines state that many of the key ingredients in commonly taken over the counter cough and cold medications DO NOT effectively quiet coughs that are caused by the common cold.

The new ACCP guidelines stress that most over-the-counter cough expectorants or suppressants, including cough syrups and cough drops, just DON'T work.

Instead, certain older allergy and pain medicines are MORE EFFECTIVE for treating coughs, even though they are not advertised as cough busters.

A COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW OF STUDIES ON COUGHS AND THE COMMON COLD
After reviewing studies done from 1980 to 2004 on cough and the common cold, an ACCP expert panel found that guaifenesin -- an expectorant found in such popular cough medicines as Robitussin and Mucinex -- is NOT effective in controlling cough caused by the common cold.

Guaifenesin is supposed to thin mucus and make it easier to cough up phlegm.

Of the four studies, which compared guaifenesin with a placebo, two showed that the cough medicine was effective, but two showed it was not.

The ACCP has concluded that this was NOT enough evidence to say that the drug is effective for treating coughs due to colds.

OTHER POSSIBLE COUGH AND COLD TREATMENTS?
Two other common cough treatments, dextromethorphan and codeine, also DID NOT pass muster for treating coughs caused by colds, according to the ACCP guidelines.

The experts found that the dose of dextromethorphan used in over-the-counter brands is ineffective. Even large doses of codeine didn't work.

SOME RELIEF FOR CHRONIC BRONCHITIS SUFFERERS
Although neither drug is effective for coughs from the common cold, both drugs may help people with chronic bronchitis get short-term relief from coughing, the panel noted.

OTHER POPULAR COLD TREATMENTS SCRUTINIZED
The ACCP has also found that the ever-popular zinc and echinacea were also ineffective for coughs due to colds.

SO WHAT DOES WORK FOR COUGHS?
The panel members didn't merely knock popular cough remedies off their pedestal. They did find some over-the-counter products that can help to calm coughs -- but not the ones you would expect.

Antihistamine/decongestant medications that contain brompheniramine and sustained-release pseudoephedrine can be effective, they found. These medications contain older antihistamines that can make you drowsy.

However, newer non-sedating antihistamines don't work for reducing cough, the panel concluded.

Another treatment to try is the pain reliever naproxen (Aleve), which the panel said has been shown to decrease the severity and frequency of coughing.

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This article was excerpted from the annual review The Johns Hopkins White Paper: Lung Disorders:
Johns Hopkins White Paper Lung Disorders

For the latest information on lung disorders from Johns Hopkins Health Alerts, please visit:
Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Lung Disorders

To download a copy of the free Special Report, The Johns Hopkins Guide to New Treatments for COPD, which includes information on treating chronic bronchitis, please visit:
The Johns Hopkins Guide to New Treatments for COPD

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JOAN MULLALLY
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