Cough medicine is big business. In 2015, some two-thirds of adults and 70% of parents relied on cough medicines to treat their own and their children’s symptoms.
But do those sweet syrups work?
Let’s see what the ingredients are supposed to do. Antitussives are cough suppressants and tend to make you drowsy. Expectorants loosen mucous, making it easier to hack up. Decongestants constrict blood vessels in the throat and nose, widening your airways. And antihistamines clear airway swelling and thin the mucous.
Yet there’s very little evidence that cough syrup actually helps treat a cough. They’re generally no better than a placebo.