Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"How long is it safe to take cough medicine?"
I've had a cough for a week so I've been taking cough syrup every day and every night before I go to bed. Is this okay? Is there a certain number of days you're supposed to take cough medicine?
What kind of cough medicine have you been taking? Is it over-the-counter (OTC) medicine? In general, cough syrup is not dangerous when taken as directed. Often, doctors believe that a cough from a cold or a flu should not be treated because coughing up mucus may help keep your lungs clear. However, a nagging cough can interfere with your day-time activities and keep you awake at night. OTC cough medicines are classified into 2 types: antitussives and expectorants. Antitussives are cough suppressants while expectorants thin mucus to help your cough clear the mucus from your airway. These medicines are sometimes combined with other drugs, such as pain relievers, decongestants, or antihistamines, with an aim to treat many symptoms from a cold at once. However, if your main symptom is cough, it is not good idea to use multi-symptom cold medicines because the drying effect of antihistamines and decongestants in a combination medicine can make mucus thicker and harder to clear from the airways, which can make your cough worse. I suggest that you talk to your doctor about your persistent cough and whether the cough medicine you are taking is ineffective. That said, healthy adults don't usually experience side effects from OTC cough medicines. However, sometimes they cause sleepiness, dizziness, and irritation. Side effects may be a concern for elderly, those who have health problems, or use cough medicines for very long periods of time. I would recommend that you stop taking cough medicine and contact a primary care physician to rule out serious causes of your cough.
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