What Are the Side Effects of Mucolytics?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 20 February 2020
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Prescribed by doctors for a variety of respiratory system diseases, mucolytics generally make mucus in the lungs thinner and less sticky. Mucus is often coughed up more readily when the drugs are inhaled; therefore, fluids that are potentially harmful to the lungs are removed from the body. There are usually no concerns regarding the safety of mucolytics, but some people produce more mucus when taking them. Others may get an upset stomach or irritation in the respiratory tract.

The most serious side effects of mucolytics include a difficulty breathing and a tightening of the bronchial airways. One is typically advised to contact a physician if these problems occur, while drowsiness, nausea, and fever are sometimes possible. An upset stomach is typically the most common side effect, however. Some people also get a runny nose, sore throat, or cough from mucolytics, or have a clammy feeling on the skin.

A skin rash can develop from taking these drugs, and this kind of side effect sometimes occurs when the respiratory system medication is taken with other pharmaceuticals, such as iodinated glycerol. It is generally not recommended to take mucolytics for more than 12 months; long term use can cause the function of the thyroid gland to decrease. While no studies have proven any harmful effects, pregnant women should generally consult with a doctor if planning on taking these types of drugs.


Dosages often vary depending on the patient and his or her condition. It is typically important to follow the prescription, while a missed dose can be made up for as soon as one remembers. Doubling up of doses or changing schedules is usually not necessary unless a physician recommends doing so. Mucolytics should generally not be mixed with other respiratory drugs that are inhaled; they do usually help with excess mucus, but research has not determined whether the drugs enhance lung capacity for people with conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

These drugs are sometimes used for conditions where mucus is produced in large quantities, such as chronic bronchitis as well as COPD. It can also be prescribed to people to help treat cystic fibrosis. Other uses sometimes include the dissolving of excess mucus in the intestines, while people with tracheostomies, who receive anesthesia during chest surgery, and undergo bronchial tests often benefit. In addition to treating the respiratory system and intestinal tract, these drugs are sometimes prescribed for severe dryness in the eyes as well.


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