Best Dry Cough Medicine: Types and Dosage

Various dry cough medications are available, such as cough suppressants, decongestants, and lozenges. A doctor will recommend the most appropriate medication depending on the cause of the dry cough.

A dry cough irritates the nerves in the airways without producing mucus. A dry cough can last for a short time or become a long-term problem. Effective treatment may depend, in part, on the underlying cause.

A dry cough can develop as a result of:

This article discusses the best types of dry cough medicine, home remedies, and prevention tips.

Antitussives block the cough reflex. Although they don’t treat the underlying cause, they can reduce symptoms. Dextromethorphan has been one of the most common cough suppressants in the past 50 years.

In the United States, several over-the-counter medications for children and adults contain dextromethorphan, including:

  • Robitussin Cough and Chest Congestion DM
  • Dimetapp Cold and cough
  • Theraflu Cough Relief
  • Mucinex DM

Learn more about the effects of dextromethorphan.

Dosage

Antitussives most often come in the following forms:

  • liquid
  • breakup band
  • chewable tablet
  • diamond

The recommended dosage for medications containing cough suppressants may vary depending on the exact active drug and a person’s weight and age.

The typical adult dosage for medications containing dextromethorphan is 15 to 30 milligrams (mg) up to four times a day. A person should not take more than 120 mg in 24 hours.

Precautions

Some cough suppressants can have psychological effects if people take high doses, such as:

Some research suggests that up to 64% people taking high doses of dextromethorphan may experience certain central nervous system (CNS) effects, such as visual hallucinations. A high dose is more than 4 mg per kilogram of body weight.

Potential side effects

Possible side effects of cough suppressants include:

Learn more about cough and cold medicines.

In some cases, a stuffy nose can lead to a dry cough. Decongestants help reduce swelling in the upper airways. It helps a person to breathe more easily, reduces postnasal drip and relieves dry cough.

Various decongestant medications are available. Pseudoephedrine is a common decongestant. Over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine include:

Dosage

Decongestants come in a variety of forms, including:

  • liquids
  • tablets
  • sustained release tablets

The dosage of decongestants depends on the active ingredient. For decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, the dosage is usually 60 mg up to four times a day, or 120 mg twice a day for the extended-release form. A person should not take more than 240 mg in 24 hours.

Precautions

Medicines containing decongestants can stimulate the CNS. Doctors may not recommend this type of medicine for people who have:

People who have the following conditions should consult a healthcare professional before using decongestants:

  • Diabetes
  • increased intraocular pressure or glaucoma
  • a seizure disorder

Potential side effects

Possible side effects of taking certain decongestants, such as those containing pseudoephedrine, include:

Menthol lozenges are another over-the-counter option for treating a dry cough. Menthol provides a cooling sensation and may have a temporary numbing effect that reduces dry cough.

Common brands of menthol lozenges include:

Dosage

Menthol lozenges are available in different strengths. The recommended dosage is 1 lozenge every 2 hours and a maximum of 12 lozenges in 24 hours.

The recommendation for children over 12 is 1 lozenge every 2-3 hours and a maximum of 8 in 24 hours.

Each lozenge contains 5.4 mg of the active ingredient, menthol.

Precautions

Doctors may not recommend menthol lozenges for children. People with diabetes should check the label for the percentage of sugar as the sugar content can vary.

Potential side effects

Menthol lozenges have minimal side effects unless someone is allergic to menthol.

Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • skin problems such as:
  • fever
  • wheezing
  • tightness in the chest or throat
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • unusual hoarseness
  • swelling of:

In addition to over-the-counter medications, prescription medications can treat a dry cough. One example is neuromodulators.

A neuromodulator inhibits the transmission of nerve impulses. Doctors use this type of medicine to treat:

Sometimes a doctor may use an off-label neuromodulator to treat a chronic cough, including chronic dry cough. “Off label” means that a physician is using the drug for something other than its FDA-approved use.

According to research from 2020, neuromodulators such as gabapentin and tramadol may benefit people with chronic cough. However, more studies are needed to assess the effectiveness of tramadol for this purpose.

Dosage

Because using neuromodulators to treat a dry cough is an off-label use, doctors don’t have extensive studies on a starting dose.

However, some research suggests that 100 mg of the neuromodulator gabapentin daily may help reduce coughing with minimal side effects.

Precautions

Limited studies suggest that people tolerate low-dose neuromodulators for chronic dry cough.

However, as with any medication, especially for off-label use, individuals should discuss the risks and benefits with a healthcare professional.

Potential side effects

The potential side effects of taking a neuromodulator for a chronic dry cough may depend on the specific drug. Typical side effects may include:

Home remedies or alternative treatments can help reduce a dry cough. Here are some options to consider.

Honey

Taking honey can help suppress a dry cough.

A 2018 review suggests that honey may help reduce coughs more effectively than some types of cough medicine, such as diphenhydramine.

Parents or caregivers should not give honey to babies under one year of age due to risk botulism.

Learn more about using honey for cough and cold symptoms.

Gargle with salt water

Gargling with salt water can lessen the irritation that can lead to a dry cough. It can also help kill bacteria in the throat that can lead to infection.

Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle. Do not swallow the water. Usually, gargling with salt water does not cause any adverse effects.

Marshmallow root extract

Taking marshmallow root extract can help reduce symptoms of dry cough.

A study 2018 found that marshmallow root extract had a positive effect on pharyngeal irritation. Participants reported that their symptoms improved within 10 minutes of taking the extract.

One of the best ways to prevent a dry cough is to treat any underlying medical condition. The following may also help:

  • use a humidifier to keep the air moist
  • to drink a lot of water
  • eliminate allergens, such as dust
  • avoiding common lung irritants, such as tobacco smoke

A dry cough often occurs due to a cold, allergies or asthma.

However, it is worth seeing a doctor if a dry cough becomes persistent. Consider contacting a doctor if:

  • the cough lasts more than 2 weeks
  • additional symptoms, such as fever, appear
  • shortness of breath develops

In most cases, a dry cough is not a medical emergency. However, a person should see a doctor if any of the following symptoms develop:

The best medications for a dry cough can vary depending on the cause.

In most cases, over-the-counter medications such as cough suppressants, decongestants, and lozenges can help reduce a dry cough. Prescription medications can relieve symptoms if the cough becomes chronic.

Home remedies, such as honey and marshmallow root extract, can also reduce the effect of a dry cough.

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