Cough Syrups: 8 Options for Dry or Productive Cough

Clinical review: Flávia Costa
November 2022
  1. Dry cough or allergies 
  2. Productive cough 

The type of cough medicine recommended for use depends on the type of cough you have. Coughs can be dry or productive in nature, and using the wrong cough syrup can interfere with your recovery. 

Generally, cough medicine for a dry coughs soothe the throat or inhibit the cough reflex. Cough medicine for wet or productive coughs acts by thinning out secretions to help wit h their elimination. 

Ideally, you should only take cough medicine as prescribed by your doctor, as a doctor can assess your cough and other symptoms to recommend the best syrup for you. Babies and children should only take cough syrup when prescribed by a doctor. 

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Cough syrups for dry cough or allergies 

Syrups used to treat dry coughs or allergy-related coughs will typically be referred to as suppressants or antitussives. They will usually have one of a combination of the following ingredients: 

  • Dextromethorphan 
  • Doxylamine succinate 
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Promethazine (available with a prescription only)
  • Codeine (available with a prescription only)

If your dry cough lasts for over 2 weeks or if you are unsure of what is triggering it, you should be assessed by your doctor

Cough syrups for productive cough 

Cough syrups for wet coughs are usually referred to as expectorants (which help you to cough up phlegm), mucolytics (which help to loosen or dissolve phlegm). Some ingredients commonly used in these syrups include:

  • Guaifenesin 
  • Bromhexine
  • Acetylcysteine (available with a prescription only)

If you are looking to use a more natural option, you can also check out our list of homemade cough syrup recipes to treat wet and productive coughs. 

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Written and updated by Daisy Oliveira - Registered Nurse on November of 2022. Clinical review by Flávia Costa - Pharmacist, on November of 2022.


  • HEALTH CANADA. Cough and Cold Medicine for Children. Available on: <>. Access in 22 Nov 2022
  • HEALTH CANADA. Non-prescription Oral Adult Antitussive Cough and Cold Labelling Standard. Available on: <>. Access in 22 Nov 2022
Show more references
  • GARROTE, Antonieta. Antitusígenos, expectorantes y mucolíticos. Ámbito farmacéutico: Educación Sanitaria. 25. 2; 61-70 , 2006
  • FONT, Elisabet. Fármacos para el tratamiento de la tos. Ámbito farmacéutico: Educación sanitaria. 22. 11; 70-78, 2003
Clinical review:
Flávia Costa
Graduated in Pharmacy at Centro Universitário Newton Paiva, Brazil, in 2003. Master in Biomedical Sciences at UBI, Portugal.