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Cough Expectorants

Related Ingredients
Related Brands*

Little Remedies, Mucinex, Robitussin

Before treating a cough, recognize there are different types of coughs. A chesty, or congested cough, is loose and is accompanied by a build up of mucus or phlegm in the lungs. Cough expectorants help loosen the mucus so that when you do cough, it can be more productive. There are also coughs where no mucus or phlegm is present. Both types of coughs can be treated with an antitussive, or cough suppressant, to reduce the amount of coughing.

What Expectorant Medicines Are For

Certain conditions such as the common cold can cause a buildup of mucus leading to chest congestion and a chesty, or congested cough. Expectorant medicines help loosen congestion so that when you do cough, it is more productive, which means that it helps you to clear the mucus from your lungs.

How Expectorant Medicines Work

Expectorants (medicines that help relieve chest congestion caused by mucus), like all over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, contain certain active ingredients that make the medicines work in the human body. Expectorant active ingredients help rid airways from mucus by making the mucus more fluid so that it is easier to clear by coughing. An expectorant medicine’s active ingredients, including how much of the substance is in each dose, are listed first on the Drug Facts label.

Expectorant active ingredients are available in oral medicines such as liquids and tablets. These medicines are taken by mouth and absorbed through the blood stream.

*Not all products sold under a brand contain the same ingredients. Please read the OTC Drug Facts label carefully for active ingredient information for specific products.

Tips for the Safe use of Expectorant Medicines (or Medicines for Chest Congestion)

  • Always read the OTC Drug Facts label carefully. The label tells you everything you need to know about the medicine including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should take, and when you should not take the medicine.
  • Do not take more than the maximum number of doses recommended on the product’s label in a 24-hour period.
  • A lingering cough may be a sign of a serious condition. If your cough lasts more than one week or is accompanied by fever, rash, or a persistent headache, you should contact a doctor or another healthcare professional.
  • If you have a persistent cough due to smoking, asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema, contact your physician before taking a cough expectorant medicine.
  • Talk to a healthcare professional before using a cough expectorant medicine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Do not use a cough expectorant for chronic cough due to smoking, asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema, or if your cough is accompanied by excessive congestion (mucus), unless a doctor tells you to.

Tips for Parents

All of the tips for the safe use of OTC cough expectorants in this section also apply to children. But like most OTC medicines, there are some additional considerations when it comes to treating kids.

  • Do not give a cough expectorant medicine to a child under the age of four.
  • Do not give a cough expectorant or any OTC medicine that is only intended for an adult to a child.

Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.


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