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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 01:34 GMT
Cough medicines 'don't work'
chemist counter
Over-the-counter remedies are popular with patients
Over-the-counter remedies for coughs should not be recommended by doctors because they are not effective, says a scientific study.

GPs and NHS helplines often tell patients with a cough to head to the local chemist and buy a variety of mixtures and medicines.

Sales of the remedies topped 94m between 1998 and 1999.

However, the study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that the evidence supporting the advice is weak at best.

The authors, from the University of Bristol, say that patients could well be wasting their money.

There are several different types of cough medicine, ranging from "antitussives", which aim to relieve a dry cough, to expectorants, which increase bronchial mucous production.

People have been treating themselves and their children satisfactorily with cough medicines bought over-the-counter for many decades

Spokesman, PAGB
Some products are "mucolytics", which aim to make mucous less viscous, and easier to clear by coughing, or contain antihistamines to reduce inflammation in the airways.

The researchers found 15 trials looking at the effectiveness of all types of cough medicine.

In nine out of 15 trials, using the treatment achieved no better results than a non-active mixture given to a different group of patients.


And the team said that even the six "positive" results were of "questionable clinical relevance".

They wrote: "It remains unclear whether over the counter cough preparations are helpful in acute cough.

"We therefore cannot yet recommend these medicines as first-line treatment for cough."

However, the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), which represents the makers of over-the-counter remedies, disputed the findings of the research team.

A spokesman said it was difficult to accurately measure the success of cough medicines, but that patients would not continue to buy them if they didn't work in some way.

He said: "People have been treating themselves and their children satisfactorily with cough medicines bought over-the-counter for many decades.

"Research carried out on behalf of PAGB amongst consumers found that, in 90% of cases, cough medicines were described as effective and 90% of people would use the product again to treat the same problem."

A spokesman for the Medicines Control Agency said: "All licensed medicines are assessed for safety, quality and efficacy and a medicine would not be licensed unless deemed to be effective."

The BBC's Neil Bennett
"In most cases they were no more effective in treating acute coughs than a placebo"
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