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Review: evidence does not support the effectiveness of over the counter preparations for acute cough

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QUESTION: In children and adults with acute cough, are over the counter (OTC) cough preparations effective for relieving symptoms?

Data sources

Studies were identified by searching 5 databases; scanning reference lists and personal files of references; and contacting authors and manufacturers.

Study selection

Studies were selected if they were randomised, placebo controlled studies (RCTs) of OTC preparations for acute cough in children and adults in outpatient settings. RCTs of chronic cough (>3 wks duration), cough resulting from underlying respiratory disease, or cough induced artificially by inhalation of chemicals were excluded, as were studies of non-oral, herbal, or homeopathic preparations.

Data extraction

Data were extracted on participant characteristics, smoking status, study setting, randomisation, blinding, loss to follow up, definition of illness, drug dosage, frequency and duration of treatment, and outcomes (cough outcome such as severity, frequency, amount of sputum, and symptoms; and adverse effects).

Main results

21 RCTs (n=2604) met the selection criteria. …

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  • Source of funding: South and West Research and Development Directorate, UK and NHS Primary Care Career Scientist Fund, UK.

  • For correspondence: Dr K Schroeder, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK. k.schroeder{at}