Cough Syrups May Be Less Effective Than What's in Your Kitchen

A couple years ago, I ducked into the doctor to complain about a number of symptoms, including an annoying cough that was keeping me up at night. My physician, who I still trust to this day, suggested some over-the-counter cough medicine. “Doesn’t that stuff pretty much do nothing?” I asked. To paraphrase, his reply: “Yeah, kind of.”

That extremely fun and enlightening personal anecdote just goes to show how even people in the medical field feel about cough medicine. The general consensus seems to be that cough syrups are surprisingly unsatisfactory at fighting coughs.

Don’t believe me? Reactions, the YouTube channel for the American Chemical Society, recently published a video entitled “Does Cough Medicine Really Work?” covering the results of a number of systematic reviews of studies about the cough products being hawked as part of the billion dollar cough relief industry. Reaction’s take: “There’s very little evidence that cough syrup is effective at treating coughs.”

Instead, Reactions points to the potential benefits of remedies you can hunt down in your kitchen: fluids, hard candies, honey and lemon are all simple things that can potentially alleviate your symptoms. So boom: grab yourself a hot toddy and you’re good to go – though depending on your level of sickness, you may want to ax the alcohol.

And if all else fails, this time last year, a study was making the rounds suggesting that chocolate can help suppress a cough – possibly even better than codeine. And you won’t find codeine in any over-the-counter cough syrups. That stuff is for prescriptions and purple drank only!

In the end, for any medical advice, consult your doctor, not a food blogger – especially if you’ve had a cough for an extended period of time. But if you just need some quick relief, don’t overlook the potential power of what’s in your kitchen.

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