Experts don’t recommend taking most cough syrups to help with symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis. They can make it difficult to clear the built-up mucus in the airways of your lungs.
Although asthma and bronchitis are two distinct conditions that affect your lungs, people with asthma are more susceptible to bronchitis. Asthmatic bronchitis causes symptoms such as:
- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- excessive mucus production
Before you reach for the cough syrup to help relieve your symptoms, here’s what you need to know about over-the-counter (OTC) cough medications when treating asthmatic bronchitis.
Should people with asthma take cough syrup?
Experts typically don’t recommend taking cough syrup for asthmatic bronchitis. Many OTC cough medications are designed to quiet the cough reflex. Rather than helping, this can sometimes make it more difficult to relieve asthma cough.
When you have asthma, your lungs are sensitive to triggers like irritants and allergens. Coughing is your lung’s way of trying to clear these substances. Your lungs produce mucus (phlegm), which you then try to clear by coughing.
You produce excess mucus during an asthma attack. This mucus accumulates and pools in your lungs and airways, making it hard to breathe.
Most cough medications contain ingredients that stop you from coughing. If you have asthma and take these medications, it may be harder to clear your lungs and airways.
Cough variant asthma
Some people with asthma have a dry rather than a wet cough. This is known as cough variant asthma (CVA).
Like the more common form of asthma, CVA causes inflammation in the airways. It can also cause a whistling or wheezing sound in your chest when you cough or breathe. Since cough syrup does not alleviate inflammation, CVA is not usually treated with OTC cough medications.
Read the labels
It helps to read cough syrup labels and to know how their ingredients work. Some common active ingredients are:
- Dextromethorphan: This ingredient is in a class of medications called antitussives. It stops coughs by decreasing activity in your brain’s cough center. But it’s not an expectorant, meaning it doesn’t address the root causes of coughing or alleviate congestion.
- Guaifenesin: This expectorant helps you bring up more mucus, reducing chest congestion. Guaifenesin is an ingredient in some medications that also contain bronchodilators, like theophylline or ephedrine. Together, these combinations can help asthmatic cough.
- Codeine: People sometimes use this opioid narcotic and antitussive to treat cough when other treatments don’t work, but its label indicates that people with severe asthma should not take it. Experts believe it could trigger an exacerbation, but a 2022 study suggests it may not.
Research from 2020 suggests that the ingredient ambroxol can help relieve symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis. While available over the counter in many countries, it is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.