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Ranking the best cough drops of 2020

Ranking the best cough drops of 2020
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Cough drops are medicated and sweetened supplements that help treat the symptoms of a cough.

Many are designed to treat the common cold as well, and cough drops can be found with a wide range of ingredients, from pharmacological treatments to herbal remedies.

Your choices can be dizzying, but fortunately, our research team has waded through the wide variety of options and reviewed and ranked the best ten cough drops.

After looking at that, we’ll go in-depth on the science behind the key ingredients you should look for in cough drops.

Rankings

1. Burt’s Bees Natural Throat Drops

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Burt’s Bees Natural Throat Drops is a venerated name in all-natural health and body care products.

Their cough drops use a lower dose of menthol (2 mg per cough drop), which is nice if your sore throat only gets irritated by the higher doses of menthol found in some competitors.

One very attractive aspect about Burt’s Bees Natural Throat Drops is the lack of any artificial ingredients: these cough drops are flavored only with honey, eucalyptus oil, and natural flavoring.

2. SoundHealth Cough Drops

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SoundHealth Cough Drops have a high dose of menthol to suppress coughs and soothe sore throats. Alongside the 7.5 mg of menthol in each drop, SoundHealth provides beta carotene for extra antioxidant power.

You won’t find any herbal extracts in this cough drop, but among products that focus only on menthol, this one is the best. There are some artificial flavors, but no artificial coloring agents.

3. Ricola Cough Drops

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Ricola Cough Drops are a nice blend of conventional ingredients like menthol and herbal extracts thought to help with coughs and colds.

The cough drops contain 4.8 mg of menthol each, alongside a blend of thyme, lemon balm, sage, and peppermint, to name just a few.

It’s a good middle ground between all-herbal cough drops and cough drops that only have one active ingredient.

4. doTERRA On Guard Cough Drops

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doTERRA On Guard takes an herbal and all-natural approach to treating coughs and colds.

Their cough drops have no artificial sweeteners or added sugars, and use a blend of essential oils to soothe sore throats.

Among these essential oils are clove, orange, cinnamon, eucalyptus, rosemary, and myrrh, which have been used as folk remedies for illnesses and maladies for centuries.

If an essential oil approach is what you are looking for, look no further than doTERRA.

5. The Crafted Coconut Coconut oil + Honey Drops

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The Crafted Coconut Coconut oil + Honey Drops makes a certified organic cough drop that uses coconut oil to help coat and protect your throat, plus ginger and turmeric to soothe and improve your cough.

It’s an innovative, all-natural alternative to more mainstream cough drops, so if pure and natural ingredients are important to you, give it a try.

6. Pine Bros Softish Throat Relief

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If your throat is sore, irritated, and inflamed, Pine Bros Softish Throat Relief has a unique solution.

Instead of a cooling agent like menthol, this cough drop uses glycerin to coat and protect the inflamed mucous membranes of your throat, allowing them to heal.

While the uses of this cough drop are more narrow than some of the other products on the market, it’s great if your throat is dry and scratchy as a result of a cough or cold.

7. Wedderspoon Organic Manuka Honey Drops

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Wedderspoon Organic Manuka Honey Drops use three powerful antimicrobial agents: manuka honey, echinacea, and ginger.

Manuka honey is produced by bees in New Zealand and has particularly potent antiviral and antibacterial effects, while echinacea is well-known as an herbal remedy for colds.

Ginger likewise has a long history of use to soothe colds and illnesses. This cough drop is one of the best all-natural cough drops for treating sore throats and coughs.

8. Zand Elderberry Zinc

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Zand Elderberry Zinc takes a slightly different approach than most cough drops. Instead of the focus of this supplement being on treating the symptoms of your infection, the focus is fighting the infection itself by supplying your body with zinc to reduce the duration of your illness.

While it does contain some herbal extracts, like elderberry and hibiscus flower, it’s not going to have the same soothing power as other cough drops, but it might be worth taking to reduce the duration of your cough.

9. Halls Triple Soothing Action

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Halls Triple Soothing Action uses menthol, a cooling, soothing compound found in plants like peppermint, for its primary throat treatment.

Halls is a big name in cough drops, and menthol can be an effective cough suppressant. People looking for all-natural products won’t like the presence of artificial flavors and colors, either.

10. Luden’s Cough Drops

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Luden’s Cough Drops are quite popular, and take a somewhat different approach to soothing throats than other competitors.

It uses pectin as its primary ingredient, which helps form a protective coat around the mucus membranes of the throat.

While many people find this treatment effective, others will scoff at the presence of artificial flavors and coloring agents, and the lack of a soothing agent like menthol.

Still, it may be worth a try if you need something to coat and protect your throat if it is dry and scratchy.

Who Should Buy Cough Drops?

Cough drops are safe for most individuals and are great at reducing symptoms such as coughing, a dry or sore throat, and even mucus build up.

Cough drops should not be consumed by young children as they are a choking hazard. Pregnant women and people on medication should consult a doctor before taking any cough drop supplements.

How We Ranked

One of the most important factors for cough drops is the ingredients. Menthol is a key ingredient in suppressing coughs and relieving sore throats, which is why products like Pine Bros ranked highly. Pectin is a lesser-known ingredient that helps form a protective coat around the mucous membranes of the throat. This is why we included Luden’s in our rankings, despite its lack of menthol. Products like Wedderspoon that included natural fighting agents like zinc and Manuka honey were also rewarded and ranked highly.

While menthol is a great ingredient, we did have a slight preference for all-natural products like Burt’s Bees and doTERRA because some artificial ingredients can cause issues.

The flavoring was also important to consider because if a product tasted bad, the consumer wouldn’t continue to use it. As such, products like Ricola and Sound Health ranked highly for not only providing except flavoring, but minimizing the use of artificial sweeteners.

Cough drop benefits and side effects

Cough drops are a broad genre of supplements that deliver medication or herbal extracts to your throat to soothe coughs and help with throat soreness or irritation.

Cough drops are also sometimes called “throat lozenges” and take a few different approaches to treating coughs and sore throats.

Some cough drops use anti-cough agents like menthol to reduce coughing and soothe throat soreness directly. Others use extracts and nutrients like zinc and echinacea that attempt to fight back against your illness to reduce the duration of your symptoms.

Still others employ compounds that form a protective coating around the mucous membranes of your throat, protecting it and allowing it to heal.

Benefits

A cough drop with zinc could help reduce the duration of your cough. When you take a cough drop, it’s usually because your throat is sore or full of phlegm due to an illness or infection.

One fairly obvious approach to treating throat problems related to illness is treating the source: the viral or bacterial infection causing your throat problems.

Cough drops that contain the mineral zinc might be able to help your cough by reducing the duration of your symptoms.

Research is conflicting, but some randomized controlled trials have found benefits to using cough drops with a moderate dose of zinc when it comes to infections like the cold.

A systematic review of all of the scientific research published on the topic of zinc for the common cold was published by the Cochrane Collaboration in 2013 (1).

The authors examined the results of 18 different studies with a total number of over 1600 subjects. When analyzing the pooled results, the authors found that taking a cough drop with zinc in it can reduce the duration of cold symptoms, but it’s important to start taking zinc within 24 hours of the onset of your symptoms.

To follow these guidelines, it’s probably best to keep a stock of cough drops with zinc ready to do, so you don’t get caught unaware without any when you start developing symptoms.

Cough drops with honey can help alleviate cough symptoms. The 2013 Cochrane Review isn’t the only large meta analysis to look into treatments for coughs and sore throats.

Another Cochrane Review published in 2009 examined the scientific literature on using cough drops and honey as a treatment for both “acute” and “chronic” coughs in children (2).

The researchers found that the literature was lacking when it came to chronic coughs, but for acute coughs (usually brought on by an infection like the common cold), there is some preliminary evidence that suggests that honey can reduce symptoms, at least in children.

When looking at the scientific research into the biological effects of honey, this makes sense—honey is known to have strong antibiotic and antiviral effects.

According to a scientific study published in 1998 in the journal Infection, honey contains numerous compounds that exert an antimicrobial effect (3).

These include hydrogen peroxide, which is quite toxic to both bacteria and viruses, as well as flavonoids and phenolic acids. Manuka honey, which is produced by bees in New Zealand when they use a particular tree as the source for their nectar, has been studied extensively for its particularly potent antimicrobial activity.

Manuka honey fights infections through mechanisms than just hydrogen peroxide, so it appears to be an ideal type of honey for cough drops. But don’t worry if you can’t get manuka honey—regular honey is still an effective treatment.

Menthol containing cough drops can both soothe your throat and help clear up nasal congestion. Sore throats and coughs rarely occur without other symptoms.

One common ingredient in many cough drops in menthol, which is a compound extracted from peppermint and other cooling, “fresh” tasting herbs. Menthol is widely used because it causes a cooling sensation in the throat and can help suppress coughs, but it may also be useful for clearing up nasal congestion.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Wales in the United Kingdom and published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology tested a menthol-containing cough drop compared to a placebo cough drop in a group of 62 people with nasal congestion who were randomly assigned to either the experimental or the control group (4).

The researchers used a range of methods to study the level of nasal congestion in the subjects, but the measure that showed the most significant response to the menthol cough drop was actually subjective feelings of congestion.

A menthol cough drop looks like it can both soothe your cough and sore throat as well as make you feel less congested, so it’s definitely an ingredient to look for if your cough is accompanied by congestion.

Side effects

Since cough drops are only taken for short durations and in small doses, the risk of side effects is quite small.

The only people who may run into problems are those who have allergies to some of the herbal compounds used in naturally-derived cough drops.

Some brands incorporate the essential oils and extracts from a broad range of plants and herbal sources, and as the number of these sources increases, so too does the potential for an adverse reaction.

However, even with a cough drop with a lot of ingredients, the number of people who will adversely react to any of the ingredients is quite small.

While there are some concerns that chronically high intake of zinc supplements could raise your risk of prostate cancer, this is from studies that assume people are taking a high dose zinc supplement every day for years at a time (5).

The smaller dose and very short duration of use in a cough drop is not likely to pose a problem.

Recommended dose

Just about the only cough drop ingredient that’s been studied from an optimal dosing perspective is zinc.

Doses of at least 75 mg of zinc per day appear to be necessary to achieve a reduction in symptoms, and it’s best if this dosage level is initiated within 24 hours of when symptoms first appear.

It’s also recommended that you split this dosage up across several cough drops takes throughout the day.

Dosages for honey and for menthol have been less well-studied, though one investigation did recommend a menthol dosage of 11 mg (which is rather high for what’s on the commercial market).

FAQ

What do cough drops do? Cough drops can help to reduce the length and severity of coughing behaviors. In doing so, the major effects of cough drops include soothing of the throat, cooling of the airway, and even reduction of the coughing reflex. When you consume menthol cough drops, the leading effect is a numb feeling in the throat, which may reduce the need to cough and the pain associated with the sore throat or cough. Unlike the name suggests, cough drops do not always prevent you from coughing.

Can you overdose on cough drops? The only way it is possible to overdose on cough drops is if they are menthol cough drops. The overdose effect would be due to menthol poisoning, which could cause gastrointestinal upset, fatigue, and confusion. However, you would likely need to consume thousands of menthol cough drops in a day for any effect to be noticeable. The only cases of overdose or menthol poisoning as a result of cough drop consumption occurred when cough drops were consumed daily and in large amounts for years at a time. With that said, as long as you are using the cough drops when you need them and not to excess, you’ll never have to worry about a potential overdose on menthol cough drops.

Do cough drops really work? Yes, cough drops do assist in treating coughs and other mild throat and airway diseases. After polling 363 cough drop users, the overwhelming majority stated that their cough persisted for longer, but the severity greatly decreased when cough drops were uses. Though many consumers would prefer reduced severity when it comes to coughing, this study demonstrates that cough drops may not live up to the hype that surrounds them (6).

Other scientists and medical professionals have also noted that cough drops work as a result of a placebo effect, not because they include any particular healing agent. With the inclusion of sweet or sugary ingredients, cough drops cause the body to salivate more. Due to increased salivation, coughing will appear less severe and likely cause a reduced amount of pain in consumers (7).

How many cough drops can you consume per day? Cough drop consumption greatly depends on the severity of your cough and sore throat. If your condition worsens or continues, the manufacturers recommend continued usage of their products when you feel it is necessary. If you are concerned about how many you should consume or how often you should use them, you should discuss this with a doctor. When it comes to children, the recommendation is that they do not use the cough drops unless directed by a doctor or medical professional.  

Are cough drops kosher? Not all cough drops are kosher, but there are some kosher options available for purchase, like Ricola, which almost exclusivly produces kosher supplements. Whether or not the product is kosher will be labeled on the bag or container of cough drops. 

Are cough drops bad when you’re not sick? Because there are no real concerns about menthol overdose or poisoning as a result of consuming cough drops, you can consume them even when you’re not sick because their ingredients are very similar to that of hard candies. However, if you’re consuming menthol cough drops on a regular basis, you might experience some uncomfortable side effects.

Why do cough drops have a laxative effect? When consumed in excess, many people experience a laxative effect as a result of sugar-free cough drops. The reason for this effect is the type of sweetener used, which usually include sorbitol or xylitol. Both of these sweeteners (sugar substitutes) are generally healthy to consume in normal amounts but could have significant effects on the gastrointestinal system in larger amounts. Both xylitol and sorbitol are linked to diarrhea, bloating, flatulence, and overall gastrointestinal discomfort when consumed in large amounts or when the consumer has a low tolerance for these items. 

What is the active ingredient in cough drops? The active ingredient in cough drops is usually menthol, which comes from the oils of mint plants. When inhaled or orally ingested, menthol produces a cooling effect in the throat, which assists in the reduction of pain and irritation in the throat, especially when coughing. Menthol is a relatively safe ingredient in cough drops due to its minimal amount. 

Do cough drops expire? All cough drops have expiration dates that are likely within a few years of product production. While the manufacturer would suggest that you not consume these products after the expiration date has passed, many cough drops maintain their quality and taste for years after expiration. Some even suggest that these products can still be used up to 10 years after they expire, though it’s not recommended. 

Can cough drops be addictive? Like any food, beverage, or supplement, cough drops can be addictive. However, if addiction to cough drops develops, it would not be due to a physical dependence on the ingredients of the product. It would be a psychological dependence provided by the relief feelings of the cough drops that included a numbing feeling in the throat and the sweet taste.

Which cough drops are safe during pregnancy? There are currently no studies that have linked cough drops to negative side effects in pregnant women, but this does not make them safe. If there were any concerns with cough drops in pregnant women, it would be because of the addition of menthol as an ingredient.

Will cough drops help strep throat? Cough drops will not treat strep throat, but they may relieve some of your symptoms from the illness. With the inclusion of menthol, cough drops can help to reduce the pain in your throat, minimize irritation, and numb the airway. Though not a cure in any sense, cough drops can make strep throat a little bit more tolerable and improve your wellbeing in a sense – which may help you recover faster.

Are cough drops good for you? Cough drops won’t improve your nutritional intake or cure illnesses or conditions, but they will help to treat the unfavorable symptoms of many common viruses and infections involving the throat. If you’re suffering from a persistent cough, sore throat, or clogged airways, cough drops can be extremely beneficial in soothing these symptoms. You’ll notice that your cough is less consistent, your sore throat is soothed and maybe even numb, and you can breathe better. The decrease in symptoms will allow you to go about your daily life without considerable interruption.

Are cough drops safe for toddlers? One major concern when it comes to toddlers using cough drops is that they present a large choking hazard. For children between the ages of one and six, you can use a teaspoon of honey or corn syrup to relieve the symptoms of a sore throat or persistent cough. Just like cough syrup, this will help to loosen the build-up of mucus in the throat and reduce the severity of the cough itself. Children six and over may use cough drops, but you should monitor the child as they consume them in case they begin to choke.

How are cough drops made? The actual production of cough drops is a relatively simple process. Cough drops are made from a combination of corn syrup, sugar or sweeteners, dyes, natural flavoring, and sometimes menthol. These ingredients are combined and then cooked similar to the production of other hard candies. The solution is then cooled and cut into the appropriate shape for distribution.

Where can you buy cough drops? Cough drops can be purchased at most pharmacies, convenience stores, retail stores, health food stores, and even online at sites like Amazon. The prices of cough drops are relatively reasonable but will vary depending on the ingredients and claims made by the distributor. 

Are cough drops bad for you? Generally speaking, cough drops do not have any major side effects unless consumed in large doses over a short period of time. For the most part, any negative side effects that occur from using cough drops are likely a result of an allergic reaction. In these cases, you may experience skin irritation or other allergy symptoms.

Menthol cough drops can also interact negatively with certain medications. In two particular cases, doctors noted that consuming menthol cough drops while on warfarin led to significant decreases in the INR (international normalized ratio) of patients – which drastically affects the ability of the blood to clot effectively (8).

What do cough drops taste like? The taste of cough drops varies based on the manufacturer and flavor of the drops. Some of the more common flavors for cough drops are cherry, honey/lemon, berries, and mint.  

Do cough drops help suppress a cough? Cough drops do not suppress coughs as much as they soothe the throat and surrounding areas. Unlike cough syrups that reduce your ability to cough, cough drops help to prevent triggers to the cough itself. 

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Recap

Cough drops can help with coughing, sore throats, and congestion in a variety of ways.

Cough drops that deliver zinc can help reduce the duration of symptoms by helping your body fight off the infection faster, as long as the daily dosage is at least 75 mg per day and as long as you start taking the cough drops within 24 hours of when symptoms appear.

Honey is a great way to reduce the symptoms of a cough related to a sickness or infection, and menthol can help soothe your throat as well as help clear up some of the congestion that can accompany a sore or irritated throat.

Though they aren’t a miracle cure, the right cough drop can go a long ways towards helping you resolve a cough, sore throat, or overall head and throat congestion. 

For Body Nutrition’s #1 cough drop recommendation, click here.





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