Sugar in Cough Drops: Should You Avoid Them Altogether?

Cough drops and remedies should be taken with care since they may hide an underlying medical problem. Avoiding sugar in cough drops and remedies will help decrease the risk of a variety of health issues, including tooth decay, heart disease, excessive weight gain, acne, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.

Key takeaways:

Taking non-sugar-containing cough drops instead of those containing sugar may also help prevent the excessive use of cough drops. Persistent symptoms unrelieved by cough drops or remedies should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.

Signs you are eating too much sugar

Sugar is not all bad. It is a good source of energy.

There are different types of sugar. In fruit and vegetables, there is fructose. In milk, there is lactose. When we think of sugar that is bad for us, we think of added sugars or sweeteners we could do without — also known as refined sugar.

Refined sugars are those obtained from sugar cane, sugar beets, or corn, typically. They may also include syrup, honey, and molasses. Refined sugars have no nutritional value and are a source of empty calories in food.

Sugar gets absorbed by our small intestines and gets broken down into simpler forms: glucose, galactose, and fructose. Our pancreas controls our blood glucose levels by secreting insulin. Over time, our bodies can become resistant to insulin and that sets us up for type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions including:

  • Weight gain and obesity;
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease;
  • Systemic inflammation;
  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Some cancers.

Sugar overconsumption symptoms

Eating too much sugar can cause the following symptoms:

  • Increased hunger;
  • Weight gain;
  • Increased stress or irritability;
  • Low energy;
  • Fatigue;
  • Change in taste or decrease in the ability to notice if foods are sweet enough;
  • Sugar cravings;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Acne and wrinkles;
  • Joint pain;
  • Insomnia;
  • Upset stomach or diarrhea;
  • Mental fog;
  • Dental caries.

Sugar in cough drops

Many cough drops or syrups contain sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or glucose syrup. There can be as many as 15 calories per cough drop. Since sugary cough drops slowly dissolve in your mouth, they resemble hard candy and can promote the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.

There are cough drops and remedies available that contain no refined sugar, but they may still contain natural sugars such as honey. Even artificial sugars may affect us in negative ways. In addition, sugar-free cough drops may have a laxative effect and cause abdominal pain. This is especially true of cough drops containing sorbitol. The best non-sugar-containing cough drops contain aspartame, but even those have possible negative effects.

Risks of taking cough drops

Outside of sugar content, cough drops and remedies have risks, but these risks are very rare.

Eating too many cough drops or taking too many cold remedies can mean ingesting too much menthol. Menthol is a chemical compound that can be found naturally in peppermint or other mint plants, or it can be produced artificially.

Most cough drops have 5–10 milligrams of menthol. In these small quantities, it is highly unlikely to cause any harm. A fatal dose would be 1 gram of menthol per kilogram of body weight.

That translates to a 70-kilogram (150-pound) person eating about 7000 cough drops before there was menthol poisoning.

Eating too many cough drops may be the same as eating too much hard candy. Many people complain that ingesting too many cough drops, whether they have sugar or a sugar substitute, may cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, headache, or diarrhea from a laxative effect.

Remember that ingesting cough drops may provide only temporary relief, masking a more serious medical condition. Cough drops can also be a choking hazard in young children.

Using cough drops when you have diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes should be especially cautious about taking cough drops or remedies with sugar, particularly when waking up in the morning.

There is a common occurrence of an increase in blood glucose levels in the morning in some people with type 2 diabetes mellitus called the dawn phenomenon. People with the dawn phenomenon may have significantly elevated hemoglobin A1c levels (a marker of how well-controlled your diabetes is).

Even ingesting sugar in cough drops or remedies may further complicate a person’s attempt at controlling their blood sugar if they have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

Should I avoid cough drops altogether?

No, you should not avoid cough drops. On the contrary, cough drops and remedies are terrific solutions for the fast relief of minor ailments. Cough drops have been a mainstay during the cough and flu season since the Hall brothers started their business in 1893.

Cough remedies will continue to improve. They should just be taken in moderation and if the symptoms persist it is always wise to seek medical attention from your healthcare provider.

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