Tuesdays are Your Turn – Cough Drops and Syrup

When I found out my now 11 year-old daughter has asthma, she was two. And right after dropping that bomb of a diagnosis, her doctor gave me the advice that’s probably familiar to most of you:

– No cough suppressants
– No vapor rub
– No cough drops

Because if your kid practically hacks up a lung with every asthma attack like mine does, you don’t want to hide that main flare symptom, the sign that her breathing’s getting worse. Plus, some of the ingredients in vapor rub and menthol cough drops can trigger people, so you have to be careful when asthma kids are young. Especially if – and again, like me – your second reaction after “She has asthma? ASTHMA? Asthma” is “What are these triggers you speak of, and how do I figure them out?”

But we got smarter and she got older. Cough drops and, on very rare and extreme occasions, cough medicine came back into AG’s life under these conditions. Vapor rub makes her cough more, though, so it’s stuck firmly in the trigger column.

Age makes a huge difference with asthma treatment. My kid can use cough drops safely (assuming she doesn’t use them in lieu of her quick-relief inhaler at school) to give her throat some relief because she’s not a toddler who needs me to listen for her symptoms 24/7.

Which is not to say I don’t pay attention anymore, just that her age now makes listening less crucial.

Do you use cough drops and/or cough medicine? What type? In what scenarios?

Lots of first-time readers come to Asthma Mom through questions like this, so let’s help ‘em out in the comments.

73 responses to “Tuesdays are Your Turn – Cough Drops and Syrup”

  1. Samantha says:

    My girl is 5 and still learning to recognize her own symptoms, by which i mean she doesnt yet tell me consistently when she is having a problem. With that in mind, we dont use cough drops at all. In fact when her school sent home a form asking me what medications (otc stuff like tylenol and such) they could give her, I said tylenol and such were ok, but cough drops are a no go. We also do not generally use any type of cough medicine except under a very specific circumstance. If she is flaring, and has already been to her primary doc (who let me say once more is *amazing* we are so very lucky), he will sometimes give her a script for a short course of codeine cough syrup along with her increased nebulizer treatments or steroids so that she can get some sleep. But that she gets only at night and in as small a dose for as short a time as possible, for the reasons listed above. Her main symptom is a cough, so I try not to stifle the cough so I can keep track of how shes doing.
    As to vapor rub, honestly, we have never tried it, but a lot of strong scents bother her so i suspect it wouldnt go well if we did.

  2. Sarah says:

    Do you use cough drops and/or cough medicine? What type? In what scenarios?

    I’ll sometimes use Halls or something of the sort if I’ve coughed enough to irritate my throat. Otherwise, I don’t take cough medicine: Sometimes my cough is my only symptom even down to a red zone peak flow, and I definitely don’t want to mess that up! if I have a cold so I’m not sure whether a cough is an asthma cough or a throat cough because my peak flow is good and I’m not feeling tight, I’ll try a cough drop and see if that clears it up. If I’m still coughing in five minutes, I’ll take my inhaler.

    I definitely don’t want to suppress my cough with cough suppressants since it’s really my main symptom (I do get tight chest and soreness and shortness of breath, but I don’t notice those if I’m concentrating on something else), but sometimes I’ll take an expectorant if I feel like I need to cough something up but it’s too thick to cough up (usually after I’ve had a cold, usually when I’m coming down with bronchitis, and usually around when I make a mental note to drop in to the doctor’s office if what I cough up is funky-colored).

    I’ve had people offer me cough syrup before and then give me a funny look when I refuse, and press me with, “But your cough sounds so bad!” I don’t really want to explain that listening to how bad my cough sounds is part of how I evaluate how bad my lungs are doing since I tried that once, and the person jumped to conclusions: “Oh my gosh! Do you need a drive to the emergency room?! I’ll drive you right now!” No, I’m just monitoring to make sure I medicate before I get to that point. *sigh*

    The other thing is, if it’s an asthma cough, I find OTC cough suppressants don’t really work at all. I take one to stop me coughing all night, and then I’m coughing all night and I have poor judgement from sedation. Salbutamol works much better for me, and it addresses part of the underlying problem.

    As for Vick’s, I’ll take it when I have junk in my lungs because I find it works well at loosening that stuff up. Beyond that, it irritates my skin. I find it does a much better job of clearing my nasal passages of congestion than calming a cough, actually, so I also use it when I’m too stuffed up to bear. :p

  3. Kelley says:

    No cough suppressants in any form for my AG (7), but I do give her guifenesin (sp?) when she has a cold to help loosen and realease the enormous amounts of phlegm she gets with colds/sinus infections. I also have found that the nasal rinses she has to do everyday help…decreasing the amount of post-nasal drip defintely helps decrease the need to cough it back out.

  4. MC says:

    I avoid cough medicines, except on a few occasions.

    Back in March I ended up in the ER at 3am because I couldn’t breathe, probably because I was sick on top of the asthma. In addition to the antibiotics and pred, they gave me a cough syrup for IF my cough got to be too much to bear. I used it once, and only once: the next night. I had a coughing fit at the all-campus thing where they had a lot of bass and drums and to top it all off, a fog machine. I coughed and coughed the whole hour, despite the inhaler (which did help reduce the cough). As soon as I got back to my room I took the cough syrup and it helped drastically. But I’ve not used it since.

    Cough drops are something that I’m still not sure about. I’ve been meaning to ask my docs about this, but haven’t yet. However, I avoid them right now as the last several times I’ve taken them they’ve made my throat swollen and really didn’t help. However, I’ve been trying to find something for when my lungs are having a coughing party that leaves my throat sore (it’s not a throat cough, but really irritates my throat sometimes when I cough a lot or really hard).

    I’ve tried taking a cough expectorant when I’m coughing up stuff that’s hard to get up, but I haven’t noticed much help. What I did learn 2 weeks ago when I started up a nasty cough that was getting productive was that hydration really helped. I’m horrible at staying properly hydrated, but when I got plenty of water all day long for a few days it helped more than anything else (besides inhalers) to get rid of it and a few days later I was mostly back to ‘normal’.

  5. Sara C. says:

    I will treat a cough in M (age 6.5) only at night, and only if it’s disrupting her sleep TOO much.

    For myself, I don’t bother, nothing works, except codeine, and codeine gives me insomnia…so unless I’m DYING, I don’t take it. (I do keep it in the house, though…just in case not being able to sleep is preferable to hacking up a lung…it’s a fine line)

    Neither one of the girls will even put a cough drop in their mouth, since they don’t like the taste.

  6. I sometimes take Simple Syrup-they give it to me in hospital too. There’s nothing in it drug wise-no codeine or suppressant-to set off my asthma-except the red colourant-which doesn’t set off my asthma when all other red colourants do!
    I make my own soothing cough helper, with lime juice whiskey and brown sugar boiled up. Obviously you can’t give that to AG!
    Cough Drops-never really need them-prefer to guzzle water if my mouth, throat is dry and I’m still coughing.
    Menthol Rubs-I can’t use Vicks but I can use Happy Nose! I don’t know if you have that in the States-silly, I should know ;-)
    And I definitely steer well clear of anything like Olbas Oil or Karvol-those drops you put on your pillow-much too strong an trigger inducing!
    The best thing for a bunged up nose and sinus problems if you have a cold is saline. Or use a neti pot!

  7. Amy says:

    Thanks, everyone.
    AG uses honey-lemon Hall’s when she needs them, but I should add here that even just sucking on a plain piece of candy can help irritated throats for kids that don’t take cough drops (or if you’re not comfortable with them.) Again, though: I only suppress the cough if I know it’s coming from my kid’s throat rather than her lungs.

    Most of my regular readers know I swear by nasal washes for stuffiness, but I do wish AG could use Vick’s for overnight nose congestion like her sister does.

    Susannah, LOVE the simple syrup idea. I’ve never heard/read that one before!

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