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Best cough medicine 2024: Remedies to fight those winter bugs

Chesty and accompanied by mucus, or dry and persistent – our pick of the best cough medicines will ease irritation fast

When the temperatures dip, viruses are rife, and your chances of steering clear of catching a cough or cold are pretty slim. But while you might not be able to avoid getting a cough, you can at least be prepared, ensuring your cupboard is stocked with the best cough medicine to fight and treat a nasty cough should it hit.

Coughs can be either dry or chesty. The former can be persistent, with the associated tickly sensation leaving you with a sore throat and constant irritation, while a chesty cough produces phlegm and can weigh heavy on your chest, with pain and congestion.

The majority of coughs will just go away in their own time, within two to three weeks; but with most folk leading increasingly busy lives, a little helping hand wouldn’t go amiss. Below, you’ll find our pick of the best cough medicines currently available, as well as information on the best way to help prevent a cough taking hold in the first place. There’s also a handy buying guide to answer any questions you might have about coughs and medicines.

Best cough medicine: At a glance

Best pre-emptive supplementThe Immune Elixir by WelleCo (~£29)Check price at Wellco
Best for chesty coughsBenylin Chesty Coughs (~£5.20)Check price at Boots
Best for dry, tickly coughsBronchosan Pine Cough Syrup (~£11)Check price at Avogel

How to choose the best cough medicine for you

What actually causes coughing?

There are a variety of factors that can cause coughing, but the most common culprits are viral and bacterial illnesses such as the flu, a cold or pneumonia. Coughs can also be caused by allergies, asthma and even heartburn or a runny nose. If you have a cough then you’ll probably find that it’s worse at night when you’re lying down. This is because the position leads to mucus pooling in the back of your throat, which in turn makes a cough worse. Note that acid reflux can also cause irritation in the throat, making a cough worse overnight. Doctors recommend sleeping with your head raised using pillows, in order to keep passages free.

What is the difference between a wet and a dry cough?

A wet cough is one that brings up mucus or other fluids, and is normally the result of a cold or flu virus. A dry cough usually appears in reaction to an irritation (such as a scratchy throat).

What are the different types of cough medicine available?

There are several types of cough medicine on the market. Let’s break them down:

  • Expectorants – These medicines help thin any mucus to make it easier to shift out of the lungs.
  • Suppressants – These are supposed to restrain a cough; but stopping a cough isn’t the best way to treat it, since you actually want to rid your lungs of any foreign substances. Such medications can be useful at night to help you sleep, however.
  • Combinations – A lot of cough medicines contain multiple types of medication. As well as expectorants and cough suppressants, they can include decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers and fever reducers.

READ NEXT: The best hay fever treatments

Ways to fight off a cough without medication

  • Drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated to thin mucus and soothe your throat.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Breathe in warm mist, either in the shower or inhalation using a bowl of hot water and a cloth over your head.
  • Use extra pillows to elevate your head while you’re sleeping.
  • Avoid airborne irritants such as smoke, pollution and dust – but, if you can’t, then we suggest wearing a mask.

READ NEXT: The best medicine for acid reflux

The best cough medicine you can buy in 2024

1. Bronchosan Pine Cough Syrup: Best for dry, tickly coughs

Price when reviewed: £11 | Check price at A.Vogel

Tickly coughs are highly irritating, causing a sore throat and disrupting your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Bronchosan’s cough syrup is made from a combination of pine shoots, honey and pine oil, coating the throat and soothing it, thus reducing coughing. The young leaves of the Norway Spruce have been used for years to help relieve coughs and they also thin any mucus, to make it easier to cough out.

This is a herbal medicine, avoiding any ingredients that may make you drowsy, which makes it a great choice for use throughout the day. The syrup has a pleasant taste, too – in case you were worried that the flavour of pine might be a tad overwhelming. Although with raw cane sugar, honey and concentrated pear juice, it is rather sweet.

You can take Bronchosan up to four times a day; the handy measuring cup in the box ensures you get the correct dosage. This is our favourite cough medicine for tickly coughs because it helps shift mucus rather than suppressing it.

Key details – Size: 100ml; Dosage: 5-10ml (1-2 teaspoons) two to four times daily; Suitable for: Adults and children over 12

Check price at A.Vogel

2. The Immune Elixir by WelleCo: Best pre-emptive supplement

Price when reviewed: £29 | Check price at WelleCo With so many coughs and colds around each winter, one of the best ways to tackle a cough is to avoid getting one in the first place. The Immune Elixir is designed to support your immune system, keeping you healthy and less likely to pick up any bugs in the first place. Should you catch a cold and cough, though, it comes packed with ingredients to help you recover more quickly.

The Immune Elixir uses a combination of Chinese and Western Herbal medicines including reishi mushrooms – known to relieve coughs – alongside olive leaf extract, elderberry and astragalus. You also get a dose of vitamins B6, D3 and C alongside zinc and selenium. This mix of ingredients is designed to promote a “healthy stress response” in the body. We’ve had very positive results from the Immune Elixir, with it leaving us feeling brighter and more energised – plus we’re yet to be taken down by a winter cough or cold. The capsules are non-GMO, gluten and dairy-free and vegan.

Key details – Size: 60 capsules; Dosage: 2 capsules with breakfast or lunch; Suitable for: Adults and children over 16

Check price at WelleCo

3. A.Vogel Cough Spray for Kids: Best for kids

Price when reviewed: £13 | Check price at A.Vogel Getting children to take medicine can be a battle. Kids aren’t afraid to let adults know when something tastes horrible and, if it does, they’re likely to fight against taking it again. A.Vogel’s cough spray for kids overcomes this issue by using marshmallow and honey for a medicine that actually tastes pleasant. Plus, the honey contains natural sugars, so you won’t have to worry about any artificial ingredients.

Although the spray is primarily for treating dry coughs, it also contains mullein extract, which is particularly good at helping to bring up any mucus that may be stuck in the lungs, making this medicine effective for milder chesty coughs, too. The spray was a hit with all the kids we tried it on, with all of them commenting on its pleasant taste. And for the big kids among you, a few extra sprays will also see it work for adults, too.

Key details – Size: 30ml; Dosage: 1-2 sprays up to 6 times a day (children 4-12), 3 sprays up to 6 times a day (adults and children over 12); Suitable for: Adults and children over 4

Check price at A.Vogel

4. ColdZyme Mouth & Throat Spray: Best preventative medicine

Price when reviewed: £11 (7ml) | Check price at Boots
If you can begin to treat a cough and cold at the first sign of any symptoms, ColdZyme claims to help reduce the severity and duration of a virus. And if you’re exposed to a cold or a cough, you can use ColdZyme as a preventative medicine, too, helping to disable a virus before it can multiply.

ColdZyme is incredibly easy to use – simply spray the fluid onto the throat. The idea is that the spray forms a protective barrier, which in turn helps to “grab” virus particles and stop them from multiplying and spreading.

We found ColdZyme effective, although it does need to be applied the minute you feel a tickle in the throat to get the benefits. It’s also very soothing on the throat, providing immediate relief from a tickling cough.

Key details – Size: 7ml / 20ml; Dosage: 2 puffs every two hours that you’re awake, 1 puff after brushing your teeth before bedtime; Suitable for: Adults and children over 4

5. Benylin Chesty Coughs: Best for chesty coughs

Price when reviewed: £5.20 | Check price at Boots Benylin has been making cough medicine for many years, and its products are always reliable. Benylin’s Chesty Coughs syrup is reasonably priced, too, making it a good choice if you’re on a budget.

Containing the active ingredients of guaifenesin and levomenthol, this medication is super-effective at shifting mucus and phlegm, helping with bronchial congestion. The thinking behind how it works is that it makes a cough more productive, loosening phlegm in the lungs, which in turn will help the cough to go away more quickly.

Suitable for adults and children over 12, you can take Benylin up to four times a day. Note that the formula is non-drowsy, too, so it won’t affect your ability to get on with day-to-day tasks. If you’re suffering from a nasty chesty cough, Benylin will do a good job of shifting it.

Key details – Size: 150ml; Dosage: Two 5ml spoonful four times a day; Suitable for: Adults and children over 12

Check price at Boots

6. Zarbee’s 2+ Years Children’s Cough & Sore Throat Syrup: Best natural cough medicine for children

Price when reviewed: £7.50 | Check price at Tesco

best cough medicine zarbees

Zarbee’s have been a popular brand in the US wellness market for many years and now their products are available in the UK as well. Their children’s cough and sore throat syrup is designed to treat all types of coughs, whether dry or chesty, but more importantly, it tastes great! Blended with real honey, this syrup tastes sweet and palatable, which means you won’t have to struggle to dose your little one.

Zarbee’s cough syrup is free from alcohol, gluten and lactose, it’s also vegetarian and contains no artificial colours or preservatives. Instead, it’s packed with naturally occurring ingredients: the inclusion of ivy leaf extract helps to clear mucus, while plant-based glycerol helps soothe the throat and stop irritation. This was a hugely popular cough syrup amongst our younger testers, all of whom really enjoyed the taste.

Key details – Size: 100ml; Dosage: 5ml 2-3 times a day (children aged 2-5), 10ml, 2 times a day (children aged 6-12), take between meals; Suitable for: Children aged 2-12

7. Centoreze Tablets: Best herbal preventative and for active symptoms

Price when reviewed: £11 | Check price at Amazonbest cough medicine Centoreze on white backgroundIf you’re looking for a traditional herbal remedy for your cough, Centoreze tablets are a great choice. Designed to relieve not only coughs but other upper respiratory tract infections such as sore throats and blocked noses. The tablets are made with a natural extract from the roots of Pelargonium sidoides and Pelargonium reniforme, both plants that are native to South Africa.

As Centoreze comes in a tablet form, it’s easy to take, with no unpleasant flavours to deal with. It’s also suitable for both adults and children over the age of 12, though as you have to take one tablet three times a day and it can’t be chewed, children do need to be confident in swallowing tablets. It’s also recommended that you take the tablets for two-three days after symptoms subside to ensure you don’t relapse.

We found the Centoreze to be extremely effective in easing coughs, particularly if taken as soon as any sign of a cough starts. The tablets are also easy to swallow and aren’t ridiculously oversized.

Key details – Size: 21 tablets per pack; Dosage: One tablet, three times per day; Suitable for: Adults and children over 12

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