What is the Most Effective Medication for a Dry Cough?

Various medications are available to address dry coughs, including cough suppressants, decongestants, and lozenges. A pharmacist can provide guidance on the most suitable choice.

A dry cough irritates the nerves of the respiratory tract without producing mucus. It can be brief or persist as a long-term issue. The effectiveness of treatment may partly depend on the underlying cause.

A dry cough may arise due to:

This article covers the best categories of medications for dry coughs, home remedies, and preventive measures.

Cough Suppressants:

Cough suppressants inhibit the cough reflex, offering relief from symptoms, although they may not address the root cause. Dextromethorphan has been a prevalent cough suppressant for the past 50 years.

In the United States, various over-the-counter (OTC) medications for children and adults contain dextromethorphan, including:

  • Robitussin Cough and Chest Congestion DM
  • Dimetapp Cold and Cough
  • Theraflu Cough Relief
  • Mucinex DM


Cough suppressant medications typically come in these forms:

  • Liquid
  • Dissolving strip
  • Chewable tablet
  • Lozenge

The recommended dosage for cough suppressant-containing medications may vary based on the specific active ingredient and the individual’s weight and age. Typically, adults take 15–30 milligrams (mg) of dextromethorphan up to four times a day, not exceeding 120 mg in 24 hours.


Taking high doses of certain cough suppressants can lead to psychological effects, such as confusion, paranoia, or hallucinations. Research suggests that over 64% of individuals who consume high doses of dextromethorphan may experience central nervous system (CNS) effects like visual hallucinations, with a high dose defined as anything exceeding 4 mg per kilogram of body weight.

Potential side effects:

Potential side effects of cough suppressants include nausea, sleepiness, and dizziness.


In some instances, a congested nose can trigger a dry cough. Decongestants reduce upper airway swelling, aiding in easier breathing, lessening postnasal drip, and alleviating dry coughs.

Various decongestant medications are available. Pseudoephedrine is a common decongestant found in over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Sudafed, Triaminic, and Mucinex.


Decongestants come in different forms, such as liquids, tablets, and extended-release tablets. The dosage depends on the active ingredient. For pseudoephedrine-containing decongestants, the typical dosage is 60 mg up to four times a day or 120 mg twice daily for the extended-release form, with a maximum of 240 mg in 24 hours.


Decongestants can stimulate the central nervous system (CNS). Therefore, individuals with conditions like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or impaired liver or kidney function may not receive recommendations for these medications. Consultation with a healthcare professional is advised for those with conditions like diabetes, increased intraocular pressure or glaucoma, or a seizure disorder before using decongestants.

Potential side effects:

Potential side effects of some decongestants containing pseudoephedrine include sleep disturbances, anxiety, headaches, dry mouth, and muscle tremors.

Menthol Lozenges:

Menthol lozenges are an over-the-counter (OTC) option for alleviating dry coughs. Menthol offers a cooling sensation and may temporarily numb the throat, reducing dry coughing.

Common brands of menthol lozenges include Cepacol, Halls, and Ricola.


Menthol lozenges are available in different strengths. The recommended dosage is one lozenge every 2 hours, with a maximum of 12 lozenges in 24 hours for adults. For children over 12 years old, the recommendation is one lozenge every 2–3 hours, with a maximum of 8 lozenges in 24 hours. Each lozenge typically contains 5.4 mg of menthol.


Menthol lozenges may not be suitable for children. People with diabetes should check the label for sugar content variations.

Potential side effects:

Menthol lozenges typically have minimal side effects unless someone is allergic to menthol. Signs of an allergic reaction may include skin issues, fever, wheezing, tightness in the chest or throat, or swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat.