Coughing is caused when the airway is irritated. Its purpose is to clear the airway so that breathing can continue normally. Coughs are often associated with other symptoms of a cold and are generally viral. Most coughs will get better within a few days. If your cough lasts longer than 2 weeks, you should see a doctor.

There are basically 2 types of cough.

  1. An Unproductive/dry/tickly or tight cough where no sputum is produced.
  2. A Productive/chesty/loose cough where phlegm is produced. The phlegm can be clear (not infected) or yellow (which indicates a bacterial infection).

Croup occurs in infants and is characterised by a harsh barking sound. It is often associated with a difficulty in breathing and patients presenting with this symptom should see their pharmacist or doctor.

Whooping cough/Pertussis is characterised by long bouts of coughing. A 'whoop' noise occurs when gasping for air between coughing fits. Patients should see their pharmacist or doctor immediately.


Cough Suppressants

Cough Suppressants are used to treat unproductive coughs and should never be used to treat productive/chesty coughs. They stop the cough reflex and give relief for a few hours until the effect wears off.

Cough Expectorants

Cough Expectorants are used to treat chesty/productive coughs. They help loosen the mucous and make you cough, to help remove the phlegm.

Soothers and Demulcents

These products are popular for their soothing effect on dry coughs and sore throats. They are suitable in pregnancy, for young children, the elderly or those on multiple medications. Their high sugar content makes them unsuitable for diabetics e.g. Glycerin, Honey and Lemon.


Mucolytics are used to treat chesty/productive coughs. They act by liquefying the mucus on the chest making it easier to clear. This product is not suitable in pregnancy or for those with stomach ulcers.
Visit your pharmacist or doctor:
  • If you have a cough which brings up coloured or blood-stained phlegm
  • If you have a cough lasting longer than 2 weeks
  • Children who cough at night
  • If you have chest pain, shortness of breath or wheezing
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • If you have are asthmatic or have any other illness
  • If a medicine has already been tried and failed to work
  • If you are on any medication
Helpful Tips from Mulligans Pharmacy:
  • There are sugar free options for diabetic patients. Visit your nearest Mulligans Pharmacy to speak with one of our pharmacists.
  • Steam inhalation can help liquefy mucus making it easier to clear. The addition of menthol or olbas oil can be made to hot not boiling water for this purpose.
  • Hot drinks can have a soothing effect on the lungs.
  • Lozenges can help soothe the cough and are useful instead of carrying a bottle of liquid.
  • Zinc, Vitamin C, Echinacea or a course of multivitamins can benefit the immune system.
  • Do not treat a chesty cough with a cough suppressant.
  • A spray can provide relief if a sore throat is present with a cough.
  • A decongestant can be recommended if the cough is associated with a blocked or runny nose.
  • An antihistamine is sometimes recommended if you have a runny nose as the cough may be due to a post nasal drip. However, you should always speak to your pharmacist or doctor before doing so.
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The information provided is intended solely as a guide. Please seek the advice of your pharmacist to determine whether a particular service, medication, or treatment programme will be of value to you. Always check the dosage directions carefully on all medicines. Never combine medicines without consulting your doctor or pharmacist. All health facts and information contained herein should not be a substitute for medical advice. The use of this site is subject to our Terms & Conditions.
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