Cough medicines 'a waste of money'

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The Independent Online

Cough medicines for adults bought over the counter may be a waste of money, a study has found.

Researchers at the University of Bristol reviewed 15 trials, involving more than 2,000 patients, that compared oral medicines with a placebo for adults with acute coughs.

They found the medicines "cannot be recommended for acute cough" because there is "no good evidence" for their effectiveness. "Recommendation of over-the-counter cough medicines to patients is not justified by current evidence," they concluded.

In nine trials, active treatment was no better than the placebo. The positive results in the other six studies were of questionable clinical relevance, said the authors, including Knut Schroeder, in this week's British Medical Journal. Because of the small number of trials, these results should be interpreted with caution, the researchers said.

They concluded that the advice given by NHS Direct to use over-the-counter cough medicines should be restricted until more evidence was available on their effectiveness. GPs are encouraged to recommend the medicines as a first-line treatment for acute coughs.

Annual retail sales in Britain of over-the-counter cough medicines rose by 3 per cent to £94m between 1998 and 1999.