Pharmacy Care

pharmacy-care - self care for minor medical conditions

This Pharmacy Care article provides information about self-care of Dry coughs, that is how to treat Dry coughs with products available at the pharmacy, Find out how your pharmacist can help you to manage Dry coughs yourself.

Dry coughs

General Information

A dry cough is non-productive and irritating, and sometimes causes a tickly throat. Your chest is not congested, your breathing is alright, and you may feel quite well, apart from the cough.

A dry cough may be the result of a recent head cold or the flu. This is sometimes called a post-viral cough. Dry coughs may be caused by a dry atmosphere, air pollution or a change in temperature.

The cough may also be a sign of other problems, such as asthma, heartburn or stomach acid reflux, heart failure or a side effect of some medicines. Therefore it is important to tell your health professional all your symptoms and medication history.

See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional

  • if the person with the dry cough is under five years old
  • if you begin coughing up mucus or blood
  • if you feel short of breath or wheezy
  • if your dry cough is mainly at night, is painful, changes or lasts longer than 10 days
  • if you are a smoker
  • if you have a temperature, a persistent headache, sore ears or a rash
  • if you have recently lost weight or have aching muscles
  • if you have high blood pressure, a heart condition, a respiratory illness such as asthma, or stomach problems
  • if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as some medicines may not be suitable
  • if you have other medical conditions or take other medicines
  • if you have allergies to any medicines

Treatment Tips

  • avoid dry environments and drink plenty of water
  • gargle with plain water for one minute, three times a day; this can ease symptoms
  • cough suppressants are best to stop a dry, irritating cough
  • two cough suppressants, pholcodine and dextromethorphan, are contained in most cough mixtures as they have fewer side effects than older cough suppressants, such as codeine
  • if you feel there is something from your chest to cough up, such as mucus, then cough suppressants are not appropriate. Discuss the use of a chesty cough medicine with the pharmacist
  • if you have a runny nose and cough when you lie down, your nose could be causing the cough and you need to treat this; see your pharmacist for advice
  • match the ingredients of a cough mixture to your symptoms; check with your pharmacist
  • avoid products for wet coughs, such as guaiphenesin and bromhexine, when you have a dry cough
  • some ingredients in combination products should be avoided by the very young, elderly women and pregnant or breastfeeding women; check with your pharmacist

Treatment Options

Cough suppressants (antitussives)

e.g. dextromethorphan (Benadryl for the Family Dry Forte, Bisolvon Dry Oral Liquid, Cepacol Cough +, Robitussin Dry Cough Forte, Strepsils Cough Relief), pholcodine (Duro-Tuss Dry Cough Liquid)

  • pholcodine is available in cough medicines and lozenges
  • dextromethorphan is available in cold and flu tablets, cough medicines and lozenges
  • if you only have a dry cough, use a cough suppressant
  • if you only have a dry cough, avoid combination medicines containing ingredients that treat other symptoms, such as a blocked nose
  • dextromethorphan can interact with other medications; seek advice from the pharmacist
  • cough suppressants are also in some cold and flu tablets; check with your pharmacist

Cough soothers (demulcents)

e.g. glycerol, honey, syrup

  • cough soothers coat the throat to reduce irritation, dryness and soothe a cough
  • cough soothers are contained in cough medicines and some cough lozenges
  • sucking on a lozenge produces extra saliva to soothe a cough
  • these are safe for most people but some include sugar, so people with diabetes should be careful
  • sugar-free mixtures and lozenges are available

Combination products

e.g. dextromethorphan + phenylephrine + brompheniramine (Demazin Cough & Cold Relief); pholcodine + phenylephrine (Durotuss PE Dry Cough Plus Nasal Decongestant)

e.g. dextromethorphan + pseudoephedrine (Benadryl for the Family Dry Cough and Nasal Congestion Oral Liquid);
dextromethorphan + diphenhydramine (Benadryl for the Family Nightime Oral Liquid);
dextromethorphan + chlorpheniramine + paracetamol + pseudoephedrine (Lemsip Pharmacy Flu Strength - Nightime);
dextromethorphan + paracetamol + pseudoephedrine (Demazin Cough Cold and Flu Tablets);
pholcodine + promethazine (Tixylix Nightime Linctus);
pholcodine + pseudoephedrine (Durotuss Dry Cough Liquid plus Nasal Decongestant);

  • combination products are useful when you have more than one symptom
  • a nasal decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, with a cough suppressant would unblock your nose and suppress a cough
  • some contain antihistamines, such as promethazine or diphenhydramine or brompheniramine to stop a runny nose or cough
  • sometimes decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, may cause insomnia and restlessness
  • antihistamines in cough medicines may cause drowsiness; do not drive or operate machinery while taking them


e.g. Cepacol Cough +, Difflam Anti-Inflammatory Sugarfree Cough Lozenges, Strepsils Cough Relief

  • these lozenges contain a cough suppressant, and sometimes other ingredients, to prevent bacterial infection or provide pain relief for a sore throat
  • some ingredients in cough lozenges are also included in cough medicines and cold and flu tablets
  • some lozenges for cough can also contain a local anaesthetic; it is important not to eat or drink hot items afterwards as this could burn your mouth
  • lozenges are not suitable for young children
  • some lozenges contain sugar but sugar-free versions are available

More Information

Availability of medicines

  • GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
  • PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
  • PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.

Search myDr for Consumer Medicine Information