It’s that time of year again! Respiratory viruses are rampant, and the associated coughs can often continue for weeks after the virus has resolved. There are many over-the-counter cough suppressants available, but what about those who cannot take cough suppressants? Here, we will explore our options.
What Is a Cough Suppressant and How Does It Work?
First, we must explore the functionality of cough suppressants. The technical name for cough suppressants is dextromethorphan. Cold medicines usually contain dextromethorphan (suppressant) and Guaifenesin (expectorant). The expectorant increases the level of moisture in the mucus in your lungs.  This lubricates your airway and thins secretions, making them easier to expel. The suppressant sends a signal to your brain, stopping the signal for you to cough.  This can be especially helpful at night, suppressing your cough so you can sleep.
Why You Might Not Be Able to Take Cough Suppressants
There are various reasons why cough suppressants may not be helpful or safe for an individual. Beware of cough suppressants if you take SSRI anti-depressants or tricyclic anti-depressants. Dextromethorphan can increase your serotonin levels, as anti-depressants do, which, when combined, can lead to a dangerous reaction called Serotonin Syndrome.  Think of it as a serotonin overdose. Symptoms can be dangerous, including rapid heart rate, muscle rigidity, high blood pressure, and even death. 
Another reason you might be unable to take cough suppressants is age. Children are often unable to take cough suppressants as they are not FDA-approved for children under the age of 4, leaving parents at a loss on how to help their younger ones. 
Alternative Options to Cough Suppressants
While there are no FDA-approved homeopathic remedies for a cough, there are some things you can do for cough relief.
– Use lozenges to stimulate saliva
-Humidifiers, especially at night 
-Teaspoons of honey as needed can be a powerful tool against a cough (children must be over 1 year old) 
-Drink plenty of fluids
-Prop your pillow up at night when you sleep
So, there are many options available to soothe your cough if you are unable to take cough suppressants like dextromethorphan. Take care of yourself this cold season, and stock up on the essentials!
- How does cough syrup work? Genexa. https://www.genexa.com/blog/how-does-cough-syrup-work. Accessed January 15, 2023.
- Dy P, Arcega V, Ghali W, Wolfe W. Serotonin syndrome caused by drug-to-drug interaction between Escitalopram and Dextromethorphan. BMJ case reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5747823/. Published August 7, 2017. Accessed January 15, 2023.
- Serotonin syndrome. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/serotonin-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20354758. Published January 22, 2022. Accessed January 15, 2023.
- Commissioner Oof the. Tips from the FDA to safely treat your child’s cough and cold. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/should-you-give-kids-medicine-coughs-and-colds. Accessed January 15, 2023.
- Goldman RD. Honey for treatment of cough in children. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4264806/. Published December 2014. Accessed January 15, 2023.