What really helps coughs?

I have had many coughs through my life. Prescription cough syrups never made a dent; until i got better.
It was cold recently, now i have this dry cough, when I cough, my chest hurts. I’d like to ‘break it up’ as it were. Recommends?

There are a handful of antitussives on the market and none are particularly effective at getting rid of the cough reflex itself. Some help break up mucus to get rid of it; some try to get an underlying cause such as sinus drip; some try to suppress the central cough reflex directly (opiods, e.g.) or numb the respiratory tubes (benzonatate, e.g.).

The cough, however, is a protective reflex with a fairly deep origin. That is to say, a patient has to be pretty obtunded before it actually goes away. This is annoying when you are just a little sick and gratifying when you are over-served at the bar and vomiting in an otherwise marginally alert state.

There is only one major OTC medication that treats coughs, Dexomethorphan, it works by helping to suppress the cough reflex itself. The only other major drugs that do that are opiates. Besides that, there is Guaifenesin which helps loosen the mucus so you have more productive coughs, and hopefully don’t cough as much. However, make sure you take it with a full glass of water or it won’t work as well.

Besides that, you can see if you can treat the cause of the cough, as Chief Pedant said, another major cause is post nasal drip, which you can help treat with an antihistamine like Diphenalhydramine (Benadryl). Or, you can see a doctor and possible be prescribed something like Benzonate (Tessalon Pearls).

Cough syrup containing codein.

Worth visiting a doctor - possibly you’ve got some bronchospasm going on which is easily treated using prescription inhalers.

Dextromethorphan is OTC and worth a try in the interim.

Ditto guaifenesin (thins secretions though I’ve heard mixed stories about how well or if it works). From what you’ve said though, your cough is a dry one (not productive) so that might not be helpful.

If you’ve got post-nasal drip, a session with a neti pot might help for a few hours.

I feel your annoyance. A couple years back, I had a cold with nasty asthma flareup. Got onto appropriate meds, was finally able to lie down to try to sleep (the night before, I was breathing too poorly and couldn’t rest)… and I started coughing. That violent, controllable coughing that wasn’t doing a damn bit of good and only prevented me from sleeping. I was not happy.

The American College of Chest Physicians put out a review a few years ago called Diagnosis and Management of Cough: Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines. I never read it, but I did read a summary of it published in the Wall Street Journal in 2006. Here’s a summary of the WSJ article:

For coughs due to the common cold, OTC medications advertise as being for coughs are not very effective. Surprisingly there are some OTC medications advertised for other uses that do help.

For coughs due to the common cold, guaifenesin (Mucinex) may not be effective. Two studies showed some benefit, two studies showed no benefit. Codeine and dextromethorphan (the latter found in some Robitussin products) may work for some types of cough but not for coughs caused by the common cold.

Two natural products, zinc and echinacea were not found to be effective against cough.

Some older antihistimines, those that cause drowsiness, can be beneficial for coughs, including diphenhydramine (Benadryl), dexbrompheniramine (Drixoral), and chlorpheniramine (Chlortrimeton).

At least some NSAID pain relievers also help coughs, including naproxen (Aleve) and possibly ibuprofin (Advil).

Heroin has been found to be one of the most effective cough suppressants.

But as has been noted by those in the know (Chief for one), the cough is usually there for a reason, to clear out/protect the lungs. Cough suppression is a strategy undertaken only when the risks (not annoyances) of the cough outweigh the benefits. Which is really not often the case.

Mucinex is what I use when I have chest congestion. If I understand how it works, it loosens the mucus so you can cough it out. Once the gunk is out, the cough heals.

The last time I had a cough that bad, I went to the doctor. He yelled at me for waiting until it was that bad (well, OK, he didn’t yell, but he chewed me out), told me I had bronchitis, and that if it were any worse he’d send me straight to the ER because I was in bronchiospasm, and prescribed antibiotics.

They took a couple of days to start kicking in, and in the meantime, my albuterol inhaler wasn’t providing any lasting relief (I’m asthmatic), and I was coughing constantly to the point that I lost my voice, and I couldn’t get any sleep. So he gave me a prescription for codeine cough syrup, which was FABULOUS. The only problem was that I couldn’t think straight while I was taking it, but hey, I wasn’t terribly functional while in bronchispasm, either.

So, short answer, sometimes codeine is good stuff. But if you’re coughing so hard that your chest hurts, you should see a doctor, no?

I’ve always felt that tea is the best OTC cough medicine. Anything that tea can’t take care of means I should probably go see a doctor. Any kind of tea (or other hot liquid) helps, but I tend toward mint tea when I’m sick.

I have asthma that’s mild most of the time, but sometimes flares up (especially this time of year when we transition from fall into winter). Tea gets rid of that nagging itchy cough reflex (which sounds like what the OP is describing) better than anything I’ve taken OTC… but when tea isn’t enough, the only thing that will do the trick is a proper inhaler.

I do sometime use Theraflu… but I’m fairly convinced that the hot liquid part is more effective than the stuff listed on the label.

I go through a round of bronchitis every year. It tends to last for a month or so. A few years back I discovered the wonders of the humidifier. If you have a dry cough, that will help a lot.
Go ahead and splurge 30 bucks or so for one like this:
the good kind
Don’t waste your money on this kind, they are not nearly as effective.

Most of the above advice is about cough suppresion. But that just cures the symptom, which can cure the problem if its a rough throat from all the coughing.

But if you have stuff that needs to get out, use a cough expectorant.

Yeah I have some advice but it seems you want to’ break it up’ and lose the cough. Unfortunately breaking it up will likely, initially, make you cough more, but then it will clear up.

If you’re looking for a natural path to breaking up the mucus, making it easier to cough off and out, you can try a shot of apple cider vinegar.

It turns out that the skin of apples naturally contain a compound that quickly and effectively thins phlegm. This compound is concentrated, for your convenience, in apple cider vinegar which is fermented with the skins on.

Yeah, I know, it doesn’t taste wonderful, it’s true. But we both know you’ve probably shot back some tequila in your time so suck it up and shoot it back. Feel free to cut it with maple syrup, grenadine or anything else that’s lying around it won’t matter.

Be prepared to be surprised at how quickly this will work. Your clogged sinuses will clear in mere minutes, it’s a sure thing. It doesn’t kill your cold but it’s a great cold remedy as it thins the phlegm which then drains quickly. Your body does the rest, and, before you know it, you’re better.

Do maybe 2 ounces in a day, should be enough.

You buy it at the grocery and it’s not very expensive, which is very off putting for some.

You may also be reacting to allergies resulting sinus drainage causing you to cough. Take an OTC allergy pill and see if the cough goes away.

Also, sometimes mild acid reflux can cause a persistent cough. Try something to treat acid reflux and see if that stops the cough.