Reading Passage 2
Cough Medicines and Cough Syrups
Research today indicates that cough remedies may not be as effective as previously thought.
A: Every year, as winter approaches, the public is assailed by advertising warning of the coming cough and cold season. Images of red-nosed, ailing, wheezing, teary-eyed sufferers highlight the approaching dangers, and the commercial world is ready to assist the prospective bed-ridden consumer with an array of cough and cold medicines, all making claims to reduce, clear, cure and restore. But do they work? Can a cough really be stopped, let alone cleared up? Are there dangers connected with the consumption of a chemically-laced cough concoction? What is the extent of our knowledge of the efficacy of cough medicines?
B: Cough medicines, or cough syrups, or, technically, a linctus (a medicine in syrup form), are used globally to treat one of the most common ailments known to man, the cold and its evil cousin, the cough. However, surprisingly, research shows that there is no supportable evidence for, or indeed against, the use of over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines. In fact, while their use is common by children in the U.S., Canadian and American health authorities discourage their use for those under six years because they have not been proven to be effective, and for concerns regarding the detrimental effects on health.
C: Cough medicines come in an array of applications, and chemical compounds, and advertise different approaches in easing the cough. Possibly the most common cough relief formula is the use of dextromethorphan, or DM, or sometimes DXM, which is used as a cough suppressant in many common OTC cough mixtures. The main selling point of DM is that it does not have the addictive features of codeine, a centuries-old cough suppressant which has rightly raised concerns regarding its addictive properties. Dextromethorphan brings relief to sufferers of dry coughs, as opposed to what is known as a productive cough, that is, a cough that brings up mucous from within the body, which helps to clear the air passages, which medical practitioners advise as being beneficial.
D: Another form of cough medicine is what is known as an expectorant, that is, a compound that eases the coughing reflex while helping the production of mucous, which relieves breathing problems. The active ingredient in this medicine is acetylcysteine, which helps to thin mucous so that it can be coughed up more easily, although it is also known that drinking water can be just as effective in loosening mucous. Side effects from expectorants include common complaints such as nausea and vomiting. Decongestants, more of a cold remedy, help to reduce nasal congestion in the sinuses, using the chemical compound ephedrine, which is a common substance found in many OTC products. These help to ‘dry out’ the sinus and assist with breathing, and are a popular product, often sold in a combination cough-and-cold medicine. Diphenhydramine is an example of a drug that is used in antihistamines which are promoted for their properties to reduce symptoms of both colds and coughs, as well as allergies and reactions, such as runny noses and eyes, and coughing fits. These products also sedate a person, which helps in suppressing the coughing instinct.
E: Interestingly, honey, a natural compound produced organically, is also known for its effectiveness in cough treatments. Honey is commonly used in hot beverages, and historically has also been linked to topical applications, combined with various herb concoctions, which have proved to have varying degrees of efficacy. Continuing with the common cold, Vitamin C is also an age-old cure-all, also found naturally, with some proponents advocating massive doses in advance of cold onsets to ward themt off, but there is still conflicting evidence which questions whether Vitamin C proves effective or not. It is known, however, that Vitamin C can reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, and also aids the immune system against physical and environmental stresses. Finally, placebos have been used in trials as a control measure against the vast array of promoted pharmaceuticals, and there is documented evidence that the outcomes of some trials show that placebo results have proven on par with the highly-touted results of modern pharmaceuticals. This falls into a similar category of various naturopathic remedies of herbs and plants, such as garlic and ginger, but which studies have shown to be inconclusive.
F: There is some concern regarding possible negative reactions surrounding the use of cough suppressants, apart from the issue of the degree of efficacy of cough mixtures. These include the addictive properties of codeine, which has seen it extended into widespread consumption for its opiate-based qualities in cough mixtures as a recreational drug. Likewise, pseudoephidrine compounds in cold and cough medicines are extracted to be used as a base product in methamphetamine production, a highly-addictive scourge throughout the developed world. Medical reports also document concerns of children being adversely affected by common OTC cough products. As well, some decongestants have been linked with raised blood pressure levels. Many states and localities around the world have introduced legislation to restrict the commercial sale of various cold and cough remedies to minors, or to make them prescription-only.
G: The history of cold medicines dates back hundreds of years, to home remedies, false cures and the attempts of the medical profession to best allay the causes, symptoms and results of colds and coughs. In the 18th century, coughs were classified into several categories, such as asthmatic, consumptive and tickling, with a number of remedies recommended depending on the type. Much was made of the sharing of information regarding the different types of coughs, and newspapers in England were given over to reporting the varying remedies based on family recipes, home therapies and different concoctions, one such being an oil from almonds, combined with herbs, syrups and candle wax which resembled, remarkably, a modern topical vaporizing rub which helps in breathing.
H: Interestingly, given the wide range of ancient, holistic, homeopathic, chemical and modern remedies and therapies for the common cough and cold, the advice over the centuries has remained remarkably similar in the approach to relieving the symptoms of this ubiquitous health problem: stay home, rest, liquids, medicines to relieve the obvious symptoms and sleep. The research seems to indicate that if one feels they are benefiting from the medicine, then it should be continued. Even a simple lozenge to ease a sore throat will assist.