It took us about four months and it wasn’t our most popular round of testing, but we put out the word with our reviewers to let us know if they picked up a cold, sinusitis, or any other coughing-centric ailment to test out the common medicines and see how each worked for their symptoms. The most beloved? Delsym Cough Suppressant came out on top as the best cough suppressant medicine around.
Coming in the longer lasting form of dextromethorphan polistirex, our reviewers found that it worked the absolute best at suppressing their cough for extended periods. It didn’t do much for other symptoms, but at the end of the day we think that we found the king of cough relief in this orange flavored cough syrup.
Table of Contents
How We Selected the Medicines
We selected the medicines well in advance of the testing taking place and made sure that we had them around the office.
We went mostly by reviews and past experiences, but we quickly found out that no two people agree on what the best overall cough suppressant is. We settled on dextromethorphan as our primary ingredient and worked out a list of symptoms of different minor respiratory illnesses from there.
Most of the medicines which we picked up were designed for colds and influenza symptom relief. We decided that would be a good place to start since the majority of treatable-at-home respiratory problems are caused by those viruses.
We also looked into medicines which would work well for sinus infections and even the dry cough which some smokers have problems with just to be complete. That’s how Halls Sugar-Free Cough Drops ended up on the list, since it really only treats short term coughing.
Then we played the waiting game.
How We Tested
We decided that as much as our reviewers love getting to try out stuff for us… it was probably extremely unethical to try to get anyone to infect themselves deliberately with something.
Basically, we put the word out that if anyone got sick to contact us and we’d hook them up with some medicine as long as they took notes on what it did for their symptoms. In an unfortunate coincidence, one of our reviewers also went through minor smoke inhalation during an accident so we had a pretty level “base” to compare to without many other symptoms.
We ended up going through six “cases” during our testing, although it took about four months for that many people to get sick.
- Three colds
- One case of the flu
- One sinus infection
- One case of minor smoke inhalation
We also had access to an individual with pertussis who insisted on being part of the trial but since we’re responsible product reviewers and not horrible to them we insisted that they receive treatment in the hospital.
For the record the doctor there gave them antibiotics and a codeine-based cough syrup which is decidedly not over-the-counter in the United States due to it’s possible narcotic effect.
The notes were, understandably, garbled and a bit weak in many cases, but putting it all together we managed to get the following information together:
- As a straight cough suppressant Delsym worked the best and the longest. It didn’t do much else, but when you’re hacking up a lung every five minutes it’s a great thing to have on hand.
- Mucinex Fast-Max DM was called a “wonder drug” by our sinus infection case, but everyone noted that it made them cough up some pretty thick phlegm as the compounds set in.
- The good old fashioned NyQuil Cough, Cold, and Flu Nightime was loved by pretty much everyone. It took off any pain incurred during the day and let them get to sleep at the end of the night. Our smoke inhalation case declined to use it however.
- DayQuil was apparently a great way to get through the day with less symptoms but it also didn’t produce nearly as long of relief as Delsym. We’ll explore why in the guide afterwards.
- Our smoke inhalation case and sinusitis case found Hall’s Sugar-Free Cough Drops to be an excellent adjunct to the medication while the others kicked in. The other cases found they were pretty take it or leave it once the stronger medicines had kicked in.
Don’t worry about our reviewers folks, they were all back to the fun stuff long before we published this guide.
It looks like what it came down to was that… well, most of the name-brand medications on the market were pretty effective. Dextromethorphan Polistirex ended up being the favorite ingredient for our reviewers however since it lasted much longer.
It may also have had something to do with the fact that Delsym Cough Suppressant isn’t nearly as bitter as the others which were on our list.
For someone with the flu it looks like being able to sleep and relieve aches and pains is more important than the cough suppression itself, so we made sure to send them a good bit of Nyquil after the first two days of testing.
Everyone else had to be up and functioning during the day, however, so we were able to get a pretty good read on whether or not they were effective for the most part.
Top 5 Cough Suppressant Medicines
|Delsym Cough Suppressant||Dextromethorphan 30mg||5/5||Check Price|
|Mucinex Fast-Max DM||Dextromethorphan HBr 20mg
|Vicks NyQuil Cough Cold and Flu Nighttime||Acetaminophen 325mg
Dextromethorphan HBr 15mg
Doxylamine Succinate 6.25mg
|Vicks DayQuil Cough Cold and Flu Relief||Acetaminophen 325mg
Dextromethorphan HBr 15mg
|HALLS Sugar-Free Cough Drops||Menthol 5.8mg||3.5/5||Check Price|
1. Best Overall for Cough
Delsym Cough Suppressant
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
When it comes down to it, purely for cough suppression, Delsym is exactly what you’re looking for. This medication contains Dextromethorphan polistirex in a dosage equivalent to 30mg of the hydrobromide salt.
On top of that, it lacks some of the terrible taste of many medications due to the way the dextromethorphan is bound with a polymer.
It’s effective for about 12 hours per dose due to the slow breakdown of the polistirex version of dextromethorphan as well. Some of our reviewers noted taking a dose in the morning and not having to worry about it for the rest of the day, so it may actually last longer in some individuals.
There is one issue: it can take longer than most cough suppressants to kick in, for precisely the same reason that it lasts so long.
This means you may be in discomfort for about twenty minutes longer than if you were to use, say, Robitussin DM. Our reviewers overwhelmingly chose to solve this issue with a couple of cough drops, which seemed to be common practice for everyone in our tests anyways since they were on hand.
For a cost-effective, long lasting relief from a cough without too many other symptoms it’s super hard to beat Delsym Cough Suppressant. It’s some of the best stuff around.
- Easy to drink due to orange flavor
- Highly effective versus coughing fits
- Single ingredient means a much lower chance of interactions
- Super long lasting
- Only good for a cough
- Takes a good amount of time to kick in
2.Best for Unproductive Coughs
Mucinex Fast-Max DM
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
In medical terms a “productive” cough is one which produces phlegm and clears things out. That’s actually what your body is trying to do when you cough in pretty much every case but pertussis.
Sometimes you’ll have phlegm which is simply too thick to cough up, which is when you want a medication like this which contains Guafenisin. Combined with Dextromethorphan you’ll be able to make sure that you cough up the nasty stuff on your own time.
Make sure you drink some extra water with this medication, it’ll help to loosen things up and get stuff out of you. When extra water wasn’t introduced the cough wasn’t nearly as productive.
This syrup is thick and tastes pretty bad, however, so be prepared. The cough suppressing effect will also only last about four to six hours depending on your metabolism which means that you’ll want to put it in your purse or backpack if you’re planning on functioning that day.
The experience was apparently kind of rough and unexpected at first. The reviewers noted that after twenty minutes they experienced a few rough coughing fits that produced phlegm before their coughing went away entirely about thirty minutes after the initial ingestion of the medicine.
That said, if you’re looking to loosen up thick phlegm then you’ll find Mucinex Fast-Max DM to be exactly what the doctor ordered.
- Loosens phlegm
- Very fast acting formulation
- Effective at suppressing cough and getting stuff out
- Easy to dose syrup
- Syrup tastes bad
- Need extra water along with the medication in order to maximize effectiveness
3. Best Night Time Medication
Vicks NyQuil Cough Cold and Flu Nighttime
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
Nyquil has a good reputation for a reason: it’s an amazingly effective way to sleep away your cold at the end of the day. This medicine is a triple threat, containing acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and doxylamine succinate.
We prefer the pill form since it’s easier to dose and doesn’t contain alcohol. The syrup is a little bit better at inducing sleep, but trust us… the doxylamine will handle it either way.
If you need something to relieve aches and pains, reduce your coughing to a minimum, and put you off into a deep sleep then these gel caps are exactly what you’re looking for. They’re a bit pricey, but who can put a price on a good night’s sleep?
Our reviewers unanimously found it to be a great thing to take at night. Even if you’re managing your symptoms entirely when you’re sick your body is going to be a bit more run down than normal after a day at work so it’s a nice touch.
Our smoke inhalation case didn’t particularly care for it, however, insisting that it left them feeling groggy in the morning.
For a night time medication, these gel caps are exactly what you’ve been waiting for. Get those symptoms down and get a good night of rest.
- Treats your cough with ease
- Gel caps are super easy to dose and tasteless
- Sleep inducing, meaning that you can experience even more relief
- Relieves aches and pains as well for better sleep
- Induces drowsiness and isn’t suitable for day use
- A little bit expensive
4. Best Daytime Medication
Vicks DayQuil Cough Cold and Flu Relief
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
You might need multi-symptom relief during the day as well. That’s where you’ll find that Vick’s Dayquil is pretty much the perfect medication.
This medication is much like the night time version but uses phenylephrine in order to make sure that your nose is cleared up. It doesn’t hurt that the medication has minor stimulant properties as well.
Of course, on top of that you’ll also get pain-relieving acetaminophen and cough suppressant dextromethorphan in the same package. It’s a pretty complete package for those with a cold,
Like it’s more veteran cousin, it’s a little bit expensive. The relief you’ll get in the short term won’t have you regretting the purchase, however. Symptom relief is an essential part of managing pretty much any minor illness and DayQuil seems to have most of the bases covered.
Our reviewers with colds favored it during the day, but did note that they had to take the medication more frequently than our favorite Delsym medicine.
If you need relief during the day then you’ll be right at home with DayQuil liqui-gels.
- Treats aches and pains
- Handles your cough with aplumb
- Treats nasal congestion
- Allows you to function during the day while experiencing relief
- Not as effective as the original formulation
5. Best Cough Drops
HALLS Sugar-Free Cough Drops
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
Cough drops may not have the long term effects of other medications but they do stand out in a big way. These menthol containing cough drops work immediately to relieve sore throats… and you won’t be coughing while you have them in your mouth.
The numbing mint sensation is quite pleasant, but the big draw is the ability to pretty much instantly quell any cough. Keep in mind that they’re only effective for a few minutes after they’ve been dissolved.
As a stop-gap while you’re waiting for a more effective medication to kick in is where they truly shine, however. They’re also a great adjunct if you’ve hit the absolute limit on your other medications for the day which is pretty easy if you’ve got a hell of a cold.
Our reviewers all used them pretty frequently through the testing process, liking the instant relief which they received from them but no one really likes having to walk around with a cough drop in their mouth at all times of day so they mostly got used with more effective medications rather than as a replacement for them.
Halls Sugar-Free cough drops may not be the most effective long-term solution, but as a stop gap or layered with a standard medication they’re super effective.
- Stop coughing almost instantly
- Pleasant minty taste
- Allows you to wait for other medications to kick in
- Sugar free, so you don’t have to worry about your teeth
- Not a long term medication, lasts only thirty minutes or so
- Expensive for something which won’t afford all day relief
A Quick Primer on Cough Suppressants
While medicine is a pretty in-depth subject, even the layman should definitely know what he’s looking at when it comes to common, over-the-counter medicines.
It’s not that complex when you get down to it, but remember that we’re not doctors and if your symptoms are severe then you’re going to want talk to someone with some medical schooling behind them.
As a general rule, colds and other minor illnesses will present with the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
While others might occur, they’re a bit out of the scope of your average cough medicine.
When you’re trying to pick out a medication that’ll suit your symptoms, the best idea is to look up the different active ingredients to make sure that you know what’s going to happen.
Dextromethorphan is probably the most common cough suppressant that’s used these days. You’ll quickly find that it handles coughs quickly and easily, but you definitely want to go easy on the dosage: too much can leave you in a very impaired state.
Many people find that dextromethorphan cough syrups readily handle their coughs, especially when it’s the only ingredient contained within the medication, without too many side effects as long as the recommended dosage isn’t exceeded.
However, it’s not going to relieve any other symptoms.
Apart from following dosage recommendations to the letter, the side effects of this particular chemical are fairly limited.
Dextromethorphan comes in two forms. The most common is a hydrobromide salt, or HBr which is fairly short acting and may require a few doses a day.
The less common form is dextromethorphan polistirex, which is much longer acting but not as effective by weight. This isn’t because the chemical is less effective, but simply because this form is heavier which means there’s significantly less molecules within the same weight of the drug.
Guaifenesin is an expectorant. It’s primary usage is pretty simple: it’ll make your cough more “productive” clearing out your airways.
That’s another way of saying that it’s going to loosen that troublesome phlegm up so that you can cough it out and clear your airways.
One thing you won’t find on most bottles containing this medication: you want to increase your water intake when using any medication which contains this particular drug. It’ll help it be more effective and you can end up a bit dehydrated from the loosened phlegm if you don’t.
Pseudoephedrine is one of the best nasal decongestants around. The problem is that it’s off-label usage as a reagent in certain illegal reactions has made it rather hard to get ahold of and it’s been increasingly replaced with somewhat less effective drugs.
If your nose is plugged up, however, then it’s a wonder drug. Many people with allergies find it to be great, and if that cold has your nose so plugged your ears won’t pop then you’ll find it’s rather useful.
Some people are sensitive to this chemical and find it extremely simulating. If that’s the case, then you’re better off using a different compound as a nasal decongestant.
Phenylephrine is the less effective cousin of pseudoephedrine. Since it can’t be used in illegal synthesis it’s generally readily available.
While it is somewhat less effective than pseudoephedrine, it’s still a viable way to get your nose cleared up and it’s the best option available for many people.
This is the primary ingredient in Tylenol and it’s often used by those who are suffering aches and pains in their illness as well as a bad cough.
It’s a particularly effective NSAID for most people, and one of the most commonly used medications in the world. The safety profile is pretty good, as long as your liver isn’t compromised.
You need to stay under 4 grams of this chemical a day, so if you’re having to repeatedly dose a cough suppressant you’ll want to measure this carefully even if the other ingredients don’t expand beyond their recommended dosage.
Both of these two drugs are used as both anti-allergy medications and minor sedatives. Don’t take anything which contains these particular medicines during the day, you’ll just end up drowsy and distracted.
On the other hand, at night these medications can be a life save, allowing you to sleep no matter how bad the rest of your symptoms are.
Cough drops and the like often contain chemicals like thymol or eucalyptol, both of which are effective cough suppressants but work by mechanical action. They’re a good idea to utilize, but perhaps not quite as efficacious in the long term as many other medications.
The good news is that most medicines aren’t going to interact with the chemicals in cough drops, which means you can suppress a particularly powerful cough by adding drops instead of having to use more medication and possibly impair yourself.
A Word of Caution
While we can recommend certain medicines based on what we know about them and what our reviewers say, the person who should really have the final say in this is simple: your doctor.
If you have any kind of chronic condition you’ll want to check with a physician before taking any kind of over-the-counter medication. Sometimes the results can prove pretty severe.
For instance, if you’ve suffered from liver damage in the past then acetaminophen is a terrible thing to take.
You also need to be careful when taking medications. For instance, many common antidepressant chemicals are SSRIs, which shouldn’t be combined with dextromethorphan incautiously as it can put an individual at risk for the sometimes-fatal serotonin syndrome.
Be careful when using medication. The results can be unpredictable and if you have other health problems… fatal.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore over-the-counter medications, just make sure that you check with your doctor.
Allergic reactions can also occur with some medications. If you’re unfamiliar with how you react to a medication, then take particular note of any of the following symptoms:
- Trouble Breathing
Any of these can be signs of a serious problem and mean that you need to get to a hospital.
They’re also exceedingly rare, so don’t let yourself be scared off of using an effective medication to make yourself comfortable.
Always stick with the recommended dose of medications.
Some of these drugs can cause very uncomfortable reactions if you utilize too much of them. Dextromethorphan, for instance, can result in an altered and uncomfortable state of mind and severe intoxication if you do something stupid like drink a bottle of it.
Diphenhydramine, on the other hand, can cause someone to go into delirium at higher doses.
Guaifenesin can cause vomiting, and pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine can both cause a ton of stimulant-related complications.
So stick with the recommended doses. If you accidentally incur side effects, seek medical attention immediately.
So, How Do I Choose?
If you’re still unsure, then think about your symptoms for a moment and consult the following chart:
|Dextromethorphan||Antitussive||Coughing is the primary indication for its usage.|
|Guaifenesin||Expectorant||An unproductive cough with the feeling of something caught in your throat.|
|Pseudoephedrine/Phenylephrine||Decongestant||If your nose is plugged up or running, then these are good medications to utilize.|
|Acetaminophen||NSAID||If you’ve got aches, pains, or a sore throat then you may wish to use this particular medication|
|Diphenhydramine/Doxylamine||Sedative/Anti-allergy||These medications will help you sleep through the rest of your symptoms if you’re having trouble doing so.|
From there, it’s simply a matter of ensuring that you treat as many of your symptoms as possible with a single medication.
You may also wish to alternate between a daytime and nighttime medication, a good daytime medication won’t contain high doses of dextromethorphan and shouldn’t have any sedatives contained within it. A good night time med should be the opposite.
We may not be doctors, but we know our products and we think that if you take our advice alongside a physician’s then you should be able to get some relief. Make sure that you have the best cough suppressant medication for you, and you’ll be able to ride your illness out in a whole lot of comfort instead of hacking for day and night for an extended period.