Alternatives to Cough Syrup

Even though there are billions of dollars spent every year in the US on over-the-counter cough syrups, most such medicines do little if anything to relieve coughs say the ACCP (American College of Chest Physicians). According to the nation’s chest physicians, cough syrups generally contain drugs in too low a dose to be effective, or contain combinations of drugs that have never been proven to treat coughs. Some over-the-counter cough syrups do contain two drugs that have been shown to help relieve coughs caused by colds – codeine and dextromethorphan – but again the doses are too small to be effective. For adults fighting a cough and runny nose, the best option is probably an antihistamine with a decongestant, such as Dimetapp Cold and Allergy Elixir, Robitussin Allergy and Cough Liquid, or Vicks NyQuil. For children between 2 and 14, here are two alternatives to using over-the-counter cough medicines.

Chocolate

Researchers at the National Heart and Lung Institute have found that a component in chocolate called theobromine, may be more effective in treating coughs than traditional treatments. The chemical was found to work directly on the vagus nerve, which is responsible for triggering coughing. In the study, 10 healthy, non-smokers received theobromine, followed by capsaicin, a cough stimulant. The effect of theobromine was compared to a placebo – and also to codeine, which is used in traditional cough remedies. It was found to be more effective than both in treating the cough. As a cough medicine, codeine (mostly known as a painkiller) had nominal success compared to the placebo, but theobromine was 33 percent more effective than codeine to stop coughing.

Theobromine has diuretic, stimulant and relaxing effects similar to caffeine, but about 10 times weaker. Unlike caffeine, it does not affect the central nervous system. Theobromine can lower blood pressure because it can dilate blood vessels and also relax bronchi muscles in the lungs. Dark chocolate contains 450 mg of theobromine per ounce which is four times more found in milk chocolate. The quantity of dark chocolate that should be eaten to stop coughing–about two ounces for an adult and about half as much for a child–is not enough to get children wound up, or for the minimal amount to cause sleep disturbances. Remember, chocolate is an anti-depressant and also contains flavonoids and other anti-oxidants, which help maintain a healthy heart, keep your blood circulation working well, and reduce the blood clotting which can cause heart attacks and strokes.

Honey

A teaspoon of honey before bed seems to calm children’s coughs and help them sleep better, according to a new study that relied on parents’ reports of their children’s symptoms. The folk remedy did better than cough medicine or no treatment in a three-way comparison. For the research, researchers recruited 105 children with upper respiratory infections from a clinic in Pennsylvania. The study found that honey was more effective than dextromathorphan for treating nighttime coughs in kids ages 2-11. The dosages used in the test were equivalent to the cough syrup: half a teaspoon for kids 2-5, a full teaspoon for kids 6-11. It is noted that honey should not be given to children under age 1 because it might cause a type of food poisoning known as botulism.

For coughs and sore throats, it may be the stickiness and viscosity of honey that makes it work well. Honey is also generally less expensive than over-the-counter medications and brings none of the side effects like dizziness or sleepiness. Honey also has antimicrobial effects with darker honeys having more antioxidants than lighter honeys.

So the next time you find yourself having to treat your cough or your child’s cough, think about using one or even both of these alternatives. These remedies are suggested in moderation since they also contain higher amounts of sugar compared to over-the-counter medicines.