Expectorant cough remedies

According to, an expectorant is a medicine that causes any trapped mucus to drain from the lungs, bronchi and trachea. It works by breaking up the mucus build-up and causing it to thin so that it might be excreted through coughing or the nasal passages. Expectorants are used in cold and cough medications to help eliminate the accumulation of mucus and phlegm. There are a number of expectorant types, usages and recommendations.


Mucus accumulation is caused by your lungs secreting fluids to maintain moisture levels. Phlegm is an accumulation of mucus and is a sticky and thick build-up in the lungs that causes a reflexive reaction that leads to coughing and sneezing. This is the body's attempt to eliminate the excessive build-up of fluid in the lungs, bronchi and trachea.

Types of medicines

When you purchase over-the-counter cough medicines, you have a choice between expectorant and antitussive medications. Expectorants are meant to treat a moist cough that is causing exorbitant amounts of mucus build-up by loosening phlegm and making expulsion more efficient, whereas antitussives are used to stop a dry cough by inhibiting the coughing reflex through repression of the nervous system. Many cold medicines contain both expectorant and antitussive ingredients.

Active ingredient

Most expectorants contain the medication guaifenesin, which acts to loosen phlegm build-up that might be caused by colds or allergies by thinning the mucus.This contributes to clearing of the air passages by making the mucus less sticky so it can be expelled more easily.The drug guaifenesin is an extract of tree bark from the guaiacum tree. It has been in use since the 1500s and is approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

Home remedies

According to Home Remedies Guide, there are a variety of expectorant remedies that can be produced in your own kitchen to aid in the reduction of phlegm and mucus build-up. For instance, liquorice root, ginger and honey have been shown to have some effect on helping to break up and discharge mucus. These home remedies are made into a paste and ingested to thin mucus and allow for elimination.

Herbal remedies

Herbs can act as expectorants by either stimulating the reflexive action needed to expel mucus or relax and loosen congestion of the respiratory system. Herbs that cause a reflexive vomiting reaction, such as bloodroot, liquorice root and ipecacuanha, can be used for severe mucus build-up to promote elimination through vomiting. Herbal expectorants that are used to loosen phlegm and relax the bronchial passages are ginger, mullein and pleurisy root. Other herbal expectorants include garlic, thyme, eucalyptus and pine. These work to loosen phlegm and can be ingested or used topically.These herbs also have antiseptic properties. There is no scientific evidence that proves the effectiveness of either homemade or herbal remedies.

Side effects

When taking expectorants, it is important to drink plenty of fluids to contribute to the flow and elimination of mucus build-up. Using expectorants may induce side effects such as nausea, drowsiness and diarrhoea. Medications that are used for expectorant purposes should not be used by expectant mothers or children. Always consult a doctor before giving any cold medicines to children. There is a possibility of allergic reaction when taking expectorants.


Expectorants will not cure a cold, allergy or flu, but may help alleviate symptoms. Expectorant medicines are useful when an individual is suffering from a cough that has a significant amount of mucus or phlegm. Expectorants should be used when there is a cough that is not producing any mucus and is restricting airflow through the lungs and bronchial passages. Expectorants should be taken with fluids to increase mucus elimination. Always follow the guidelines listed on the expectorant medication for the best results. Discontinue use of the medication if you have severe adverse reactions or the condition worsens.

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About the Author

Robin McDaniel is a writer, educator and musician. She holds a master's degree in higher educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton as well as a bachelor's degree in elementary education. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in adult in community education. McDaniel enjoys writing, blogging, web design, singing and playing bass guitar.