Cough drops: lollies or lozenges?

Most cough drops taste great, but do they actually help us cope with a cold or are they just a cleverly marketed lolly?

Bupa’s National Medical Director and GP Dr Tim Ross says there are two main purposes of a lozenge; to soothe a sore throat or to relieve a ticklish cough. 
He explains what to look for and when lozenges are simply another sweet treat.

Medicated lozenges

A sore, inflamed throat is often the first sign of a cold. It can feel like you’re swallowing razor blades, food doesn’t taste the same, and even talking can be painful.

Dr Ross recommends reaching for lozenges which contain antibacterial agents, which can help fight disease-causing bacteria. 

“If you get in really early with a medicated lozenge with antiseptic in it that could actually help prevent a full blown cold, but you’d need to get onto it really early.” says Dr Ross.

Some lozenges also have a level of aesthetic which can numb your throat if it’s really sore. 

Menthol

If you have a stuffy nose of a ticklish cough, Dr Ross recommends trying a menthol lozenge.

“When you’re congested a menthol lozenge might help to loosen up the airway, but you need a pretty strong one,” says Dr Ross. 

Dr Ross says it’s the menthol vapour that can help to loosen up and break up the mucus in your nose or in your throat.

“Some people find using a lozenge with strong menthol can help relieve a ticklish cough, although for some people it actually makes it worse,” says Dr Ross. “It depends on what works for you.”

Cough drops with vitamins

Lots of lozenges contain vitamins like; echinacea, vitamin C and zinc suggesting it will help ward off a cold. But Dr Ross says there is not a lot of evidence to show these ingredients will provide any real benefit to someone with a cold or flu.

“You’re better off getting your vitamins from eating citrus fruits like oranges or a mandarin as part of your diet,” says Dr Ross.

cough lollies

It’s essentially a lolly if…

Dr Ross says there are a lot of brands on the market with little to no benefit except maybe a placebo effect.

“Some might taste good, but if they’re not medicated or they don’t have a strong menthol in them, they’re simply lollies and they’re not going to do anything for you aside from tasting pleasant,” he says.

He recommends trialling different brands to see which ones give you some relief but be mindful of the sugar content.

“That said you could argue when you’re unwell your body is needing lots of energy to fight the bug so a little bit of sugar is okay if you don’t have any other medical conditions that you need to be mindful of,” he says.

Other handy home remedies

  • Try a teaspoon of honey for a dry, ticklish cough, or even a little bit of brandy and honey (for adults only of course).
  • Gargling an antiviral and antibacterial mouthwash can be more effective than a lozenge to help to fight germs in the early stages of a cold.  Most mouthwashes around the family home have some kind of antiseptic in them too which can save a trip to the chemist. 
  • Some people swear gargling warm, salty water helps relieve the pain and swelling of a sore throat. It’s also believed gargling salt water regularly can help prevent irritation caused by postnasal drip 
  • Warm fluids like good old chicken soup or lemon and honey tea may also help soothe an irritated throat. 
  • Rest. There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to help your body recuperate if you’re feeling unwell.
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