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An expectorant is a type of medication that's used to loosen mucus in the lungs, throat and bronchi. It also makes it easier for you to expel the mucus when you cough. Expectorants are most often used in combination with over-the-counter or prescription medications that treat common illnesses.
Expectorants work by thinning the mucus and coating the throat so it's easier to eliminate mucus caused by a cold, breathing sickness like bronchitis or sinusitis or flu. Medications containing an expectorant generally are taken by mouth every 4 to 6 hours and should be taken with an 8-ounce glass of water. Food can be consumed when medicine is taken to reduce stomach upset. When taking an expectorant, it's important to drink a lot of fluid to help mucus loosen.
Where It's Found
The most common place to find an expectorant is in cough medicines, such as Guaifenesin AC. Many of these medications are categorized as narcotics.
Although it depends on the specific formulation of medication taken, side effects-such as nausea and vomiting, constipation, drowsiness, nervousness and sleeplessness-may occur. Other possible side effects include dizziness and dry mouth. More severe side effects could include fast heartbeat, appetite loss and excessive sweating.
Who Should Avoid
Medications containing an expectorant generally are not recommended for newborns or premature babies. Those who are allergic to codeine or other narcotics, such as triprolidine, or antihistamines like pseudoephedrin should not use a medication containing on expectorant without consulting a doctor. Medications containing an expectorant are not to be used by people taking an MAO inhibitor, those with coronary artery disease and anyone with high blood pressure.
Medications that contain an expectorant typically should not be used for coughs resulting from emphysema, asthma or smoking. Expectorants should only be used in children under 4 years old under a doctor's guidance. Expectorants, when coupled with medications containing codeine-type drugs, can cause dependence. Consequently, it's important never to take more than the recommended dosage. Such medications should never be taken in tandem with other medicines of a similar nature.