Cough Medicines

Cough medicines (antitussives) are a group of drugs, aiming to inhibit the unpleasant and undesirable cough. Generally, these drugs inhibit either the central nervous system or the respiratory tract.


Antitussives are administered in cases of irritating dry cough. They are commonly used in acute viral and bacterial infections of the upper respiratory tract, in acute bronchitis, deterioration of chronic bronchitis and in pneumonias.

Used substances

Generally, we distinguish codeine and non-codeine preparations that somewhat differ in mechanism of action.

Codeine preparations

These preparations contain the substance codeine, which acts on the central nervous system and suppresses the nerve centre responsible for cough as a defensive reaction.

Non-codeine medications

Theses antitussives do not contain the codeine. They act either on the central nervous system, or directly on the respiratory tract. They do not have so serious side-effects as codeine preparations. Non-codeine medications include for example substances such as butamirate and dropropizin.


It depends on the prescribing doctor. Some drugs may be prescribed as oral tablets or capsules, for children there are special medications served as drops or syrup.


Codeine cough suppressants may have sedative and narcotic effects. Their overdose may impair the function of the respiratory centre. They may be very dangerous during pregnancy and in breast-feeding women. Their long-term usage could cause addiction and therefore, they should be prescribed only for a short time period. Non-codeine antitussives do not have so significant and potentially serious side effects.


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources