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Parents and caretakers might be surprised to find out that some of the most commonly misused drugs by teenagers and young adults are the cough and cold medicines that are sitting in their own medicine cabinet.


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Medicines that have DXM in them come as syrups, capsules, pills, or throat lozenges. Dextromethorphan-containing products — tablets, capsules, gel caps, lozenges, and syrups — are labeled DM, cough suppressant, or Tuss or contain "tuss" in the title. When people take too much DXM, they might have hallucinations and "out-of-body" sensations. DXM also depresses brain function, particularly the parts of the brain that control breathing and heart function. Taking a lot of DXM causes hallucinations and out-of-body sensations similar to the ones caused by drugs like ketamine and PCP. These effects can last as long as 6 hours.

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For either situation, there are a of over-the-counter OTC cough suppressants that can help. A cough from a cold or the flu influenza will usually go away on its own. Sometimes, cough medicines can be useful if your cough is keeping you awake or interfering with your daytime activities.

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Some types of cough should not be treated with cough medicines, because the cough is helping to keep your lungs clear so you can breathe. Examples include a cough caused by smoking, emphysema, pneumonia, asthma, or chronic bronchitis. OTC medicines are medicines you can buy at a drugstore without a prescription from your doctor.

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There are 2 types of OTC cough medicines: antitussives and expectorants. Antitussives are cough suppressants. They relieve your cough by blocking the cough reflex. Expectorants thin mucus.

How do people use and misuse otc medicines?

This may help your cough clear the mucus from your airway. Drinking extra fluids also helps keep mucus thin. Dextromethorphan and guaifenesin are sometimes combined with each other 1 brand name: Robitussin DM. They are also available in combination with other medicines, such as pain relievers, decongestants, or antihistamines.

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These combination products such as multi-symptom cold medicines are meant to treat many symptoms at the same time. However, if your main symptom is cough, be careful of the drying effect of antihistamines and decongestants in combination medicines. This effect can make mucus thicker and harder to clear from the airways, which can make a cough worse.

What parents can do to prevent abuse

Store all medicines up and away, out of reach and sight of young children. Keeping medicines in a cool, dry place will help prevent them from becoming less effective before their expiration dates. Do not store medicines in bathrooms or bathroom cabinets, which are often hot and humid.

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But sometimes these medicines can cause irritability, sleepiness, or dizziness. Side effects may be a concern for people who have health problems, are elderly, or use cough medicines for long periods of time. You should stop taking cough medicine and call your doctor if your cough lasts for more than 2 weeks, or if it keeps coming back.

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Last Updated: September 8, This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject. Acute bronchitis is a contagious viral infection that causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes the airways that carry air…. Visit The Symptom Checker.

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. Acute Bronchitis. Colds and the Flu. What types of OTC cough medicines are available? How do OTC cough medicines work? How can I safely store OTC cough medicines?

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Can OTC cough medicines cause problems with any other medicines I take? Should I talk to my doctor before taking an OTC cough medicine?

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Talk to your doctor before taking cough medicine if you have any of the following symptoms: Fever. Shortness of breath. Cough that lasts for more than a few weeks called chronic or long-lasting cough.

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Wheezing when you cough or breathe. This may mean you need a prescription medicine to treat inflammation swelling and narrowing of your airways.

Dextromethorphan and other active ingredients

When to see a doctor You should stop taking cough medicine and call your doctor if your cough lasts for more than 2 weeks, or if it keeps coming back. Will antibiotics make my cough go away?

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Is my cough related to smoking? Is my cough related to allergies?

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Last Updated: September 8, This article was contributed by familydoctor. Tags: Cold and Cough Medicinescoughcoughingexpectorantover the counter. Related Articles. Learn about the symptoms of and treatments for colds and the flu. Visit our interactive symptom checker Visit our interactive symptom checker Get Started. Close Modal Close Modal.