Systematic review of randomised controlled trials of over the counter cough medicines for acute cough in adults.BMJ 2002; 324(7333):329-31BMJ
To determine whether over the counter cough medicines are effective for acute cough in adults.
Systematic review of randomised controlled trials.
Search of the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group specialised register, Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, Medline, Embase, and the UK Department of Health National Research Register in all languages.
All randomised controlled trials that compared oral over the counter cough preparations with placebo in adults with acute cough due to upper respiratory tract infection in ambulatory settings and that had cough symptoms as an outcome.
15 trials involving 2166 participants met all the inclusion criteria. Antihistamines seemed to be no better than placebo. There was conflicting evidence on the effectiveness of antitussives, expectorants, antihistamine-decongestant combinations, and other drug combinations compared with placebo.
Over the counter cough medicines for acute cough cannot be recommended because there is no good evidence for their effectiveness. Even when trials had significant results, the effect sizes were small and of doubtful clinical relevance. Because of the small number of trials in each category, the results have to be interpreted cautiously.