There is little evidence that expensive over-the-counter cough medicines actually work, doctors said today But the NHS Choices website advises: ‘There’s little evidence to suggest cough medicines actually work, although some ingredients may help treat symptoms associated with a cough, such as a blocked nose or fever.’
The webpage adds that the ‘simplest and cheapest’ treatment for a ‘short-term cough’ may be a homemade remedy containing lemon and honey. It continues: ‘There’s no quick way of getting rid of a cough caused by a viral infection. It will usually clear up after your immune system has fought off the virus.’ Dr Tim Ballard, vice chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, today backed up the NHS claim He said: ‘The medical evidence behind cough medicines is weak and there is no evidence to say that they will reduce the duration of illnesses – as such, GPs are unlikely to prescribe them.’
A Which? investigation two years ago said found many popular cough medicines do not work as well as they claim to. The report authors concluded that studies used to support the claims of effectiveness are often low quality.
Many also contain high doses of sugar, with one week of the adult maximum dose of a popular product containing as much sugar as five Mars bars.
A bottle of Dry Coughs remedy by leading brand Benylin is sold in Boots for £4.99 for a 150ml bottle. Benylin’s website states: ‘Through its active ingredients, Benylin Dry Coughs Original helps to suppress the coughing mechanism, reducing the urge to cough.’
Doctors say traditional home made remedies made with lemon and honey may be the best approach The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, a national trade association representing the consumer healthcare industry, released a statement after Benylin was contacted for a comment. It said: ‘Cough medicines will not “cure” a cough, but they can help relieve the symptoms. ‘The key to effective management of cough is to identify the most troublesome symptom and to choose an appropriate product.
‘All cough medicines have been assessed for safety and efficacy by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before they are put on the market. ‘When the product is licensed, MHRA also reviews the claims that can be made about the product, such as what the product can be used to treat, how fast the product works and how long it works for. ‘Only claims approved by MHRA can be used on the packaging and in advertising.
The NHS Choices website advises that if the cough is caused by an underlying treatment, this will need treating ‘OTC products on the UK market have successfully demonstrated their efficacy through decades of use by millions of consumers, and their acceptance by the MHRA, which independently reviews the clinical evidence, means people can continue to rely on them when treating themselves and their children.’
Dr Ballard said while some patients do find such medicines beneficial, patients who have had a cough for less than three weeks should seek advice from their local pharmacist.He added: ‘If the cough lasts longer and is affecting young infants, or is associated with coughing up blood, shortness of breath, confusion, or high fever, then they should contact their GP practice, although a face-to-face appointment might not be necessary.’
The NHS website states that coughs caused by an underlying medical condition will need specific treatment.
NB I made that up about the malt whisky in the title!