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Chiropractic Research Review

Cough Medication May Be Useless

General practitioners often recommend over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicine to treat acute cough caused by upper respiratory tract infections, although evidence to support these medicines effectiveness is limited.

Cough medicine sales are rising: In the United Kingdom (U.K.), sales rose 3% between 1998 and 1999.

To determine whether OTC cough medicines are effective for treating acute cough from infection, the authors of this study conducted a database search of all studies in the U.K. involving adults with acute cough of less than three weeks who were administered cough medicine in a randomized, controlled trial including placebo or no-intervention groups. Fifteen trials and 2,166 subjects were included in this review.

In nine of the studies, cough medication was "no better than placebo" for treating acute cough. In the remaining six studies, the positive results "were of questionable clinical relevance." This was true for antihistamines, antitussives, expectorants, decongestants, and combinations of these types of drugs.

The authors conclude, "Over-the-counter cough medicines for acute cough cannot be recommended because there is no good evidence for their effectiveness." They add that more research is needed on the subject because of insufficient data, but suggest that until more information is available, these cough medications are simply an unnecessary expense for the consumer.

Note: Given the amount of over-the-counter cough medicines available for acute cough, one would think they possessed some effectiveness. This paper counters this conventional thinking. Visit the site on the Internet below for the free full article.

Schroeder K, Fahey T. Systematic review of randomised [sic] controlled trials of over-the-counter cough medicines for acute cough in adults. British Medical Journal 2002:324, pp. 329-331. Available free at http://bmj.com.

Chiropractic Research Review

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