Study: overuse of menthol drops could prolong cough

Photo courtesy MGN Online Image Id: 353462 11/22/2016

MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - Have a cough, reach for a cough drop. A new study finds too many of those handy little drops could be making things worse.

It started with Dr. Robert Mead, a family-medicine doctor at Bellin Health in Green Bay. He asked patients with "persistent and unexplained" coughs to stop using cough drops. Mead found that the coughs "resolved over a matter of days."

“Menthol is in lots of cough drops and over-the-counter drugs,” said Mead. “I was astounded by the number and frequency of cough drops patients were using. Some went through an entire bag (20) in one day! I wondered if menthol was causing ’rebound’ coughs.”

Dr. Mead took his observation to Wisconsin Research and Education Network's senior scientist, Dr. David Hahn. He started a study on the side effects of over-the-counter cough drops.

Hahn came up with a 10-question survey for patients who had a cough. Of 548 surveys, 66 percent used cough drops.

The study found that the duration of the cough was longer in cough drop users compared with non-users. It also found that the cough was more severe in cough-drop users.

"These results are not surprising because people with more prolonged severe symptoms are expected to seek out more relief, including from cough drops," the study found.

Hahn also looked at the menthol content of cough drops and found a connection between cough severity and the number of drops per day; the dose per drop; and the daily menthol dose.

Dr. Hahn said the next step could be a full study on the side effects of menthol cough drops. He encourages doctors to ask more questions about use of over-the-counter cold medications.

“A history of OTC cough-drop use should be included in the clinical evaluation of a severe and/or persistent and unexplained cough,” said Hahn.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

Wisconsin Research and Education Network is part of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

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