Got a Cough? Find out Which Medicine is Right for You!

A visit to the local pharmacy reveals row after row of products for coughs due to a cold and flu.

We all know the signs of a cold and flu. Your symptoms may include sinus congestion, mucus, fever, muscle aches, stuffy nose, post-nasal drip, and a nagging cough. A visit to the local pharmacy reveals row after row of products for coughs due to a cold and flu. It's hard to know which one is best for you. The three types of medicines you will find are expectorants, suppressants, and topical ointments you apply to your skin.

What is an Expectorant?

If you are experiencing a wet cough and congestion in the chest due to cold or infection, then an expectorant is what you need. When you have a cold or respiratory infection, the airways in the lungs become infected. As a result, excess phlegm is produced and causes blockages in the lungs and throat. You may then experience thick chest congestion, shortness of breath, and a wet cough. A cough expectorant thins and loosens excess phlegmy mucus. It relieves congestion in the chest and clears phlegm out of the airways. An expectorant makes it easier to expel mucus by coughing. If the mucus is not cleared from your lungs, it can contribute to bacterial infections, including pneumonia. 

A common over-the-counter expectorant is Guaifenesin. Guaifenesin is used to treat coughs and chest congestion caused by a cold or flu. Guaifenesin is used to treat symptoms but does not treat the cause or speed recovery. Guaifenesin is available as a cough medicine in the form of a capsule, a syrup or an extended-release (long-acting) tablet. In severe cases where a prescription is needed, Gees Linctus for example, is a cough expectorant with a demulcent action.

What is a Cough Suppressant?

The second class of cough medicines to help you stop coughing are called cough suppressants. Also known as antitussives, cough suppressants work by blocking your cough reflex. Antitussives contain the active ingredient dextromethorphan . Dextromethorphan is useful for a nonproductive hacking cough where there is no mucus or phlegm built-up. It is important to consider that dextromethorphan is a synthetically manufactured chemical cousin to codeine. Similar to codeine, dextromethorphan is absorbed into the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier. It binds to receptors in the medulla oblongata cough center to suppress the reflex.

As a cough medicine, there is debate in the medical community on the effectiveness and usefulness of cough suppressants such as Robitussin and Mucinex. There is little evidence cough suppressants like Robitussin and Mucinex actually work. More so, a growing amount of research has found they are not effective, especially in children. Finally, the risk may not be worth the reward as the over-the-counter medicines, like Mucinex, can have serious side effects. 

What is a Topical Ointment or Rub?

A topical ointment or rub, like a menthol rub, is often made with camphor and menthol. Menthol is derived from peppermint or other mint oils. The menthol vapor rub is rubbed onto your skin around the throat and chest. The menthol rub is a cough medication that releases strong-smelling menthol vapors. Menthol is also a natural cooling ingredient. The menthol rub acts as a suppressant. Menthol rub temporarily eases your cough and provides decongestant relief for sinuses. Vicks VapoRub, for instance, is a rub that relieves coughing due to bronchial irritation and the common cold. A topical ointment or vapor rub containing menthol can also be used on muscles and joints. The menthol vapor rub also provides soothing relief for sore muscles and joint pain. A natural menthol ointment, such as Mentholatum Natural Menthol is a gentle and safe rub alternative. When applied to the skin and chest, the aromatic vapors of menthol may offer decongestant relief and soothe symptoms.

Natural Home Remedies

Thyme can be considered the golden standard for treating coughs, fighting off infection and soothing a sore throat. The European Medicinal Herb Committee has even classified Thyme as a proven traditional herbal remedy. With it's antibacterial, antiseptic, and astringent properties, thyme has been used centuries as a cold remedy to treat upper respiratory tract infections and cough. Thyme contains two non-medicinal constituents: thymol and carvacol. These chemicals have been shown to help ward off bacterial and fungal infections and relieve muscle spasms, such as chronic coughs or acute coughs. 

Eucalyptus is another amazing herb used as a cold medication to help with respiratory infections and fighting off infections. Commonly prepared as an essential oil, eucalyptus oil can be applied externally to the skin or inhaled through steam. The essential oil contains the antiseptic compound eucalyptol. Eucalyptol helps the body fight off bacteria and pathogens that often cause cold symptoms. Eucalyptus works as a natural nasal decongestant and anti-inflammatory to treat multi-symptom conditions including cold symtpoms, sore throat, nasal congestion, mucus, runny nose, and bronchitis. Eucalyptus is also commonly found in natural vapor rubs. Image of eucalyptus

Ivy Leaf is another ingredient commonly found in natural cough syrups and expectorants. Used in herbal medicine, the proven effects of ivy leaf are likely due to the chemical compounds, saponins and flavonoids. Together, these help to thin and loosen mucus in the airways and relieve chest congestion. The natural expectorant is widely used in cold medicine for cough relief, bronchitis, asthma, lung and bronchial support.


Tussiflorin has been on the German market since 1960. Tussiflorin is a herbal cough syrup made with the ingredient pure Thyme vulgaris extract. Tussiflorin is an expectorant and is used to treat coughs, complaints in the respiratory tract in cases of the common cold accompanied by viscous mucus. The remedy is also used to relieve symptoms of acute bronchitis. Whether you are experiencing a wet or dry cough, post viral, whooping, bronchitis, or dry tickling cough, the cold medicine can be used for the entire family ages 1 year and older.

  • Classified as an expectorant
  • Non-drowsy
  • Low sugar content and no artificial sweeteners
  • Low alcohol content
  • Suitable for ages 1 and older
  • Available in 100 ml bottle and comes with a dosing cup

If your symptoms persist or worsen, consult your healthcare provider.

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