How do I Choose the Best Cough Suppressant for Children?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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In recent years, many leading pediatric medical groups have come to the conclusion that for mild to moderate coughs, the best cough suppressant for children is no cough suppressant at all. The present formulas on the market that are sold for the pediatric population usually contain either guaifenesin or dextromethorphan. Guaifenesin is an expectorant, so it won’t suppress coughing, and dextromethorphan’s usefulness in suppressing cough has repeatedly been questioned. Parents are most advised to see a doctor if a child’s cough seems to getting worse or is greatly interfering with sleep, instead of picking up a suppressant at the drug store.

A cough can be a useful thing. It helps to produce and expel mucus from the airways or the sinuses, reducing the virus or bacterial infection or inflammation. Doctors routinely don’t recommend a cough suppressant for children for use during the day because it tends to be beneficial for them to cough. Suppressing the cough means the body is not getting rid of the offending mucus, and that’s usually not advised.

Of course, sometimes it might be advisable to use a cough suppressant for children, particularly at night, if a cough interferes with sleep. It might make sense to buy common suppressants like dextromethorphan, but this may not be very useful. One of the most interesting studies to take place in recent years was a comparison between dextromethorphan and honey, which suggests dextromethorphan may not help much.


A fairly large group of kids were given cough suppressant for children that contained dextromethorphan, while another group received honey in warm liquids. The results were studied to see which children coughed less or had fewer nights of disturbed sleep. Honey easily swept the competition. It promoted more restful sleep and less coughing.

Parents might assume that at least dextromethorphan would be useful for children under the age of one due to the recommendation that honey of any kind not be used with this population group because it contains botulism spores to which babies are highly vulnerable. Because over the counter cough suppressants are never recommended for infants, there is no choosing a best cough suppressant for children of this age.

In some instances though, cough suppression is needed. Under doctor guidance parents might use honey, dextromethorphan or a prescription medicine that contains codeine. These are usually only advised for night time treatment, and most doctors strongly recommend parents speak to their doctors about cough treatment prior to making any decisions.

It’s also important to treat underlying causes of cough. While viruses don’t respond to most treatments, conditions like asthma, allergies or infections can be effectively treated with medication. Ending the illness generally ends the cough. Parents can use other measures to calm cough too, like mentholated rubs, turning on a vaporizer or humidifier at night, and offering plenty of liquids during the day to thin mucus secretions.


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