Do modern cold and cough remedies hack it?
A British investigation has found big-brand cough bottles are almost useless – so are Irish pharmacists still happy to sell these products?
There is a good chance that if you walk into your local pharmacy hacking like a seal and complaining of a running nose, you will be given some class of cold remedy and a cough bottle.
But will the medicine make you any better? British consumer group Which? is unconvinced. Last month it published a short but damning article that suggested that several well-known cough syrups and cold treatments, as well as other popular over-the-counter treatments, do not do exactly what they say on the tin.
A number of household names were in the firing line. Benylin Chesty Coughs Non-Drowsy claims it “works deep down to loosen phlegm, clear bronchial congestion, and make your cough more productive”. Benylin Tickly Coughs contains glycerol and demineralised liquid sugar to “help to soothe the tickling sensation of your cough so that you can get back to your day”. Sounds good, right?
Not according to Which?. It concluded there was “no robust evidence” showing that either product worked.
As with all medicines, these cough syrups, which cost more than €5 a bottle, are licensed with the Irish Medicines Board and the company is legally required to show the evidence that their products work. However, when Which? asked the manufacturers to share the research behind their claims, the company declined, saying it had satisfied the regulator who had thoroughly reviewed its clinical evidence.
The presence of “demineralised sugar” in the Tickly Coughs brand is interesting. Which? found that the cough bottle contained 1.5 teaspoons of sugar per 10ml dose and worked out that if a person takes the maximum dose over the course of a week they will have consumed the equivalent of five Mars bars.
“We spend billions on over-the-counter pharmacy products each year but we’ve found evidence of popular products making claims that our experts judged just aren’t backed by sufficient evidence,” a Which spokesman said. “Companies should be upfront with the evidence behind the claims they make so that consumers can make an informed decision.”
Although there is no cure for the common cold, the IMB says “authorised medicines provide relief for symptoms such as cough”. It said Benylin Non-Drowsy for Dry Cough contains dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, and Benylin Non-Drowsy for Chesty Coughs contains guaifenesin, “an expectorant and menthol which has mild anaesthetic and decongestant properties”.
The makers of Benylin told Pricewatch that it had given the Summary of Product Characteristics (SPC) to Which? for its review. “These definitive documents are based on the scientific information relating to the medicine, including its pharmacological properties. SPCs . . . form the basis of prescribing information for healthcare professionals.”
It insisted that all its products had “demonstrated efficacy and have been granted a licence . . . following a thorough review of the clinical evidence by their independent experts”. Furthermore, it said the ingredients in its cough medicines “have been widely used for many years and have a good efficacy and safety profile”.