When it comes to coughing vs. not coughing, most people would tell you that not coughing is way better. But there is a reason that the body responds by coughing at certain times.
Coughing might be unpleasant, but it is actually a pretty good idea if you take into account that, like sneezing, coughing is one of the body’s best defense mechanisms against many foreign invaders that try to sneak into our nasal membranes, chest, or digestive systems. For example, people with pneumonia need to cough up all the material in their lungs and sinuses if they have hope of ever breathing again. Coughing is a primary way of removing what will harm the body, regardless of the origins of illnesses; a person who can’t cough can’t expect to live for very long.
For medical providers, coughing is a sign of healing; it’s not only a good sign, but also an essential part of the body’s response to disease. In otherwise healthy adults and kids, coughing comes to a provider’s attention because of the medical and treatment implications of its control, as well as its origins. With only a basic understanding of chemistry and pharmacology, it’s much easier to grasp why cough medications are often regarded as the enemy by healthcare practitioners – especially if the patient’s history includes information that he or she is an addict. The pharmacology of cough medications provides an answer to this riddle as well as a heads-up to addicts who are coping with a nasty cough related to a cold or the flu. NOTE: This information does not apply to anyone with emphysema, lung cancer, asthma or COPD; please see your physician if you have any of these conditions or an unresolved chronic cough of any kind.
• Dextromethorofan is the primary substance contained in over-the-counter cough medications. This is the drug that quiets your cough, and it usually contains extra medicine to relieve your chest and nasal congestion. Unfortunately, DXM can be abused –usually by teenagers looking for the cheap buzz that drinking many bottles may provide.
• Codeine, a derivative of opium with powerful painkilling properties, is also the very best cough suppressant, available in a soothing by-prescription-only syrup. Codeine successfully shuts off the cough centers in your brain; one spoonful gives you several peaceful hours without that nasty cough. Physicians don’t normally give patients refills of this syrup.
• Alcohol is contained in some over-the-counter cough medicines, but these are disappearing in favor of non-alcohol formulas. There’s no real reason why alcohol should be present in cough medicine since it does nothing for your cough. It merely provides a tiny bit of fleeting sedation to make you feel better for a very short time.
• Pseudoephedrine is a stimulant drug of the ephedra family that also works well as a decongestant for your sinuses and chest. It’s sometimes contained in multi-symptom cough preparations but is mostly found in tablets. Because ephedra is an illegal substance in the U.S. (it’s an ingredient in methamphetamine), products containing pseudoephedrine are kept behind pharmacy counters instead of on shelves. In most states, you can buy only one box at a time and must present identification that’s kept in the pharmacies’ records for law enforcement reasons.
The final breakdown of the issue of addicts and cough medicine is this: Go ahead and cough to get all the mucous out of your chest. But coughing can get out of hand if your brain doesn’t get a “stop” signal. Addicts who suffer from routine colds and a mild case of the flu can get good cough relief from dextromethorphan cough syrups, but unrelieved coughing that lasts longer than five days requires evaluation by a physician. Addicts should tell their physicians about their recovery so a decision can be made about the short-term use of codeine cough syrup. Addicts can safely use a short course (3 to 5 days) of pseudoephedrine decongestant tablets; if in doubt, addicts should consult their physicians.
Take no unnecessary chances, read the labels on all products, and ask questions. You’ll be just fine.