How do I stop a cough when cough medicine doesn't work?
June 19, 2012 6:05 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop a dry cough after cough syrup, cough drops, and various teas haven't helped?

I had a cold a week ago and the congestion and most of the acute stuff has gone away and I'm mostly feeling better except the dry cough has continued on and on and is actually more constant now. I normally would be able to deal with it but I have a shoulder injury and every cough feels like my shoulder is ripping apart!

My cough medicine (Robitussin Lingering Cough syrup) isn't doing anything and sucking down cough drops like mad barely helps. Tried tea and tylenol, too. It's just this constant tickle that causes coughing to trigger. Is there anything I can do to knock this cough out cold or that irritated tickle feeling? Are there stronger prescription strength cough medicines worth seeing the doctor for or something I could inhale? My cough medicine helped when I had a wet cough but why doesn't it work now?
posted by mxmm to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Tessalon perles (benzonatate is the generic) for day, cough syrup with codeine at night. Both prescription in the US.

Also, try sleeping with a vaporizer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:14 PM on June 19, 2012

You need a cough suppressant. Something with a lot of dextromethorphan in it.
posted by slkinsey at 6:14 PM on June 19, 2012

What you want is Buckley's Mixture.

Fair warning that it tastes completely hideous - like if you melted down a Vick's mentholated cough drop, used it to brew tea from pine needles and added some ground-up mothball. But I once had a persistent cough like yours, and within ten minutes after taking a dose it stopped. (For four hours, then I had to take the next dose, but still.)

If you do better with tablets, make sure you get an expectorant (like with Mucinex) rather than a suppressant - that helps your body get the crud out of your lungs. Robitussin usually just makes you stop coughing, and you don't get the crud out of your lungs if you don't cough so it just comes back.

But seriously, Buckley's. It really does taste awful, but it works. And it's over the counter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:15 PM on June 19, 2012

Go see a doctor. You could have allergies.
posted by hooray at 6:21 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The cough medicine I have has Dextromethorphan HBr, USP 15 mg per dose. I also have a bottle of vicks vaporub I'm inhaling but with little effect.

I have Mucinex but my lungs feel pretty much clear now (the congested phlegmy phase is past) so I didn't think I needed an expectorant. But I'll try one and see if it does anything.

Would I be able to find Buckley's in most drug stores like CVS/Rite Aid? I don't mind how bad something tastes at this point.
posted by mxmm at 6:27 PM on June 19, 2012

seconding the Buckley's for OTC remedies. Hold your nose while you take it, but it works. I had a persistent cough earlier in the year that codeine couldn't touch. Buckley's took it out in minutes. (It can be hard to find outside Canada, so be prepared to do a bit of search if you're in the states or elsewhere.)

Otherwise, for Rx, you're likely looking at codeine or Tessalon perles (though I have a benzonatate allergy, so can't take the latter any more).
posted by scody at 6:27 PM on June 19, 2012

You need a cough suppressant with higher quantities of dextromethorphan in it than the Robitussin. Alternatively, try breathing only through your nose, and breathing slowly. relaxing your breathing can function as a natural anti-spasmodic.
posted by howgenerica at 6:27 PM on June 19, 2012

I was coughing on the train once and the cutest little old Greek lady you ever saw told me I needed to find some pure organic honey and take a spoon of it to help with the cough. And you know, it really did help.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:28 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm going to agree with codeine. It's the best for that kind of cough.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:29 PM on June 19, 2012

Sorry, missed your follow-up on preview. In Los Angeles, at least, I've never seen Buckley's at CVS, but I have seen it (occasionally, not consistently) at Rite-Aid. Check around. Otherwise, you can order it online here.
posted by scody at 6:31 PM on June 19, 2012

Depending on your location you might be able to get a prescription for cough syrup with codeine. The codeine isn't just to kill the pain, it is actually a powerful cough-stopper.

Meanwhile, I agree with ThePinkSuperhero, a spoonful of honey can be pretty effective. I also found that "Throat Coat" type teas (specifically -- not just any tea!) actually work.
posted by telegraph at 6:33 PM on June 19, 2012

A constant dry cough with a tickling feeling can sometimes be a sign of acid reflux. If you can see your doctor, ask about it. You could try an OTC acid reducer like Prilosec, it may help if reflux is the cause. IANAD but I am an acid reflux sufferer.
posted by juniperesque at 6:34 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've found luck with a persistent dry cough with just a spoonful of honey, actually. Soothes things, and some studies have found it more effective than dextromethorphan.
posted by whitneyarner at 6:41 PM on June 19, 2012

When this happened to me, my doctor diagnosed me with reactive airway disease (sort of pre-asthma I guess?) triggered by a recent cold. I was prescribed an inhaler and it did wonders when nothing else did. I used it for a couple weeks, then tapered off. I've noticed since that I often get a dry cough after an upper respiratory infection and the inhaler seems to help.
posted by k96sc01 at 6:50 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I often get coughs like that from post-nasal drip -- hence the expectorant suggestion. It thins all the mucous.

The Buckley's site has a link for "buying Buckley's in the USA" that has a list of stores that would carry it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:53 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Came here to recommend benzonatate too.

My impression from the reactions of doctors when I've asked for it is that it's a bit old-school.

Do not dry swallow - biiig gulp of water here, because if it gets stuck halfway down your throat, once the perle dissolves you're going to feel very numby in the sense of "if this keeps on going, will I be able to swallow?"
posted by zippy at 6:54 PM on June 19, 2012

Just went through this myself and I think it's worth a visit to the doctor. I ended up having bronchitis that I thought was just the tail end of a cold. My only symptom? A dry cough with only occasional mucous production. Five days on a Z-PAC and I'm good as new. Go to the doctor, it's worth the visit.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:56 PM on June 19, 2012

I just read that buckwheat honey was shown to be more effective than cough syrup at treating coughs. So, I'd give that a try.
posted by Proginoskes at 7:07 PM on June 19, 2012

Have you been running the air conditioning lately? (Don't)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:15 PM on June 19, 2012

How long have you had the dry cough? Are you taking lisinopril or any other ACE inhibitors? I know you said you just recently had a cold and are associating the cough with that, but I thought I'd ask anyway. Dry cough is a possible side effect of ACE inhibitors. I didn't find that out until I was coughing hard enough to sometimes cause vomiting. (Months after having a chronic dry cough.)

Even if this isn't the case for you, I also wanted to mention it in case someone else looking for the same thing comes across this sometime.

Hope you feel better soon!
posted by INTPLibrarian at 7:32 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just like k96sc01, I had a bronchial thing that just would not quit. Always felt like gunk was slipping down my lower esophagus into my bronchial tubes. Finally went to doc and he prescribed an inhaler (advair) This worked wonders with no side effects - gone in a week and a half.
posted by ecorrocio at 7:34 PM on June 19, 2012

Seconding that persistent dry coughing is a sign of allergies & allergy induced asthma.
posted by skrozidile at 8:02 PM on June 19, 2012

I had a similar experience to PorcineWithMe, except my clinic doc also gave me codeine cough syrup and it worked awesome.
posted by klangklangston at 8:06 PM on June 19, 2012

My doctor has given me vicodin for this, when it's really bad. It lets me sleep without the pain irritating my throat and triggering the cough, which in turn gives my throat a chance to heal so the cough can finally stop.

Feel better soon!
posted by 168 at 8:27 PM on June 19, 2012

N'thing bronchial habit here. I h8 inhalers but it's routine for me to keep a nebulizer handy with my meds for when I RAD up.

Short term, available locally: dark chocolate. Dove, two squares or half a small bar. Eat it quick, lay down & let it suppress your cough reflex a while.
posted by tilde at 8:58 PM on June 19, 2012

Try Vicks vaporub on the soles of your feet, with socks, while you sleep. It's weird but it works.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:17 PM on June 19, 2012

Not taking ACE inhibitors.

So far i've tried taking honey, a claritin (the only allergy med I have on hand), a mucinex for expectorant, a tums for any reflux, and throat coat tea. None have really helped. The tea did a bit as long if I constantly sip it, but I would have to drink them back to back constantly.

I actually do have some oxycodone pills leftover from a surgery. I know I tolerated it very well before with no dependency signs so maybe that might be worth a try. It seems the result would be similar to codeine, no?

As far as inhalers you were prescribed, what exactly do they do? Are they nebulized steroid like cortisone to reduce swelling? Or do they act by some other mechanism?
posted by mxmm at 9:31 PM on June 19, 2012

Nthing the recommendation to visit a doctor. What you describe could also be whooping cough (pertussis), which is both serious and treatable with antibiotics. There's been a spike in cases in my area this year; you can check the CDC morbidity tables to find out if the same is true in your region.
posted by ourobouros at 9:49 PM on June 19, 2012

Also here to mention GERD. Try prilosec, because Tums won't cut it if this is the problem.
posted by pickypicky at 10:51 PM on June 19, 2012

Oh ick, I had this a while ago. A mild cold that devolved into a dry hacking cough that wouldn't quit. Mine lasted weeks (almost 2 months??) and I never went to the doc (mostly out of laziness and because the cough was super annoying but didn't seem all that threatening).

Codeine works well, but tends to make me way too sleepy to function. Can you get Drixoral where you are? The pseudoephedrine in it dialates the bronchial tubes and is awesome at suppressing coughs/congestion. (Ephedrine is traditionally prescribed for asthma but the side effects aren't great -- pseudoephedrine isn't as bad, but if you're taking anti-depressants you DO NOT want to take any ephedrine-related products without consulting your physician.)

IANYD, obviously.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 11:49 PM on June 19, 2012

Cough medicines don't work.
posted by gramcracker at 12:54 AM on June 20, 2012

I had a similar situation a couple weeks ago; got sick with a cough, sick went away, cough lingered, little relief from syrups and drops. What worked for me was a generic numbing spray, which has 1.4% Phenol. The directions say five sprays as needed, but I was doing 2-3 as needed.
posted by Evilspork at 2:02 AM on June 20, 2012

DARK Chocolate to get you through a few days to see doc. If its something more RAD like, she can prescribe you appropriate meds. Mine are daily pill of an rx type, rx nebulizer meds as needed for my type of RAD flare up.
posted by tilde at 4:05 AM on June 20, 2012

This was me last summer. You have my sympathies. What soothed my cough (though certainly didn't make it go away) was hot brandy with honey, lemon and sage before bed. Even if it does nothing for your cough, it's an amazing drink (though, admittedly, more comforting when it's not a heatwave).
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 4:35 AM on June 20, 2012

k96sc01: "When this happened to me, my doctor diagnosed me with reactive airway disease (sort of pre-asthma I guess?) triggered by a recent cold. I was prescribed an inhaler and it did wonders when nothing else did."

This exact situation is how I got diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. Go check in with your doctor.
posted by workerant at 6:30 AM on June 20, 2012

When I had a dry cough like that, my doctor prescribed a cough syrup with hydrocodone in it. It worked wonderfully. So.... I would recommend that you just go to the doctor already.
posted by barnoley at 6:52 AM on June 20, 2012

I too have a coworker who ended up needing a couple weeks with an inhaler to calm a dry cough. Worked well for her.

I have a dry cough right now (but it's only day 2) and I find Delsym works ok to limit the coughing fits to one or two per day. I also LOVE Burt's Bees Natural Throat Drops Honey flavor with Menthol and Eucalyptus. The package says over 35% of the formula is pure honey, and they taste pretty good. At night I will also try some Chloraseptic throat spray to numb my throat long enough to fall asleep, and keep it by my bed for midnight wake-ups.
posted by misskaz at 8:27 AM on June 20, 2012

Running a humidifier at night! I used to get HORRIBLE dry coughs that would last for weeks after every cold until I bought one and started running it at night. As my doctor explains, dry air irritates my airway tissues, which cause coughing, which damages the tissues more and causes more coughing in a vicious cycle. The humidifier keeps the air moist and breaks that cycle.

I also take benzonatate when I can't use a humidifier (at work, when traveling) as codeine does nothing for me.
posted by telophase at 8:28 AM on June 20, 2012

This is very similar to the situation I'm in right now. After a few weeks of wheezing and a gradually worsening cough, I was diagnosed earlier this week with pertussis, aka whooping cough:

Initial symptoms, similar to the common cold, usually develop about a week after exposure to the bacteria.

Severe episodes of coughing start about 10 to 12 days later. In children, the coughing often ends with a "whoop" noise. The sound is produced when the patient tries to take a breath.

...If started early enough, antibiotics such as erythromycin can make the symptoms go away more quickly. Unfortunately, most patients are diagnosed too late, when antibiotics aren't very effective. However, the medicines can help reduce the patient's ability to spread the disease to others.

...Cough mixtures, expectorants, and suppressants are usually not helpful and should NOT be used.

I did get antibiotics, as well as an inhaler to help me breathe. I actually haven't had really bad coughing fits (pertussis is often mild in adults, especially if they received the vaccine as children, which most of us did), but I am finding myself short of breath a lot.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:31 PM on June 21, 2012

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