What to know about Australia’s cough medicine recall

Dozens of cough medicine products have been recalled from Aussie shelves – here’s what to know, and what to look for instead.

A potentially fatal ingredient that can cause anaphylactic shock when mixed with general anaesthesia has prompted an urgent recall of dozens of cough medicine products in Australia.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration announced the recall of 55 products, including cough syrups and lozenges, which contained the cough suppressant pholcodine, an opioid that has been used in Australia since the 1950s.

What is pholcodine used in?

The cough suppressant is found in a range of over-the-counter pharmacy medications, including syrups and lozenges, to treat a dry cough.

It is also found in combination with other medications in products that treat cold and flu symptoms.

Pholcodine, a derivative of morphine, had been available for dry cough relief since it was patented in 1952.

What prompted the pholcodine recall?

The TGA probe came as a result of a European Medicines Agency review that supported a suspected connection between medications containing pholcodine and potential anaphylactic reactions to neuromuscular blocking agents used to relax muscles during general anaesthesia.

While rare, it is difficult to reliably predict who is at risk of anaphylaxis from pholcodine during anaesthesia – so the decision was made to remove it as a registered medicine.

What to do about the cough medicine recall

Firstly, check if you have any over-the-counter cold and flu medicines containing pholcodine at home.

If so, stop taking them, discard, and ask your doctor or pharmacist for an alternative treatment.

If general anaesthesia is needed and you have taken pholcodine in the past year, your health professional should be informed before the procedure.

How should you manage a cough instead?

A cough is a sign of irritation or blockage of the bronchial tubes and of the body’s attempts to expel this.

It’s important to first identify and address the underlying cause of the cough, via discussion with a pharmacist or other health professional.

Underlying issues might include silent reflux, post-nasal drip or a medication-related adverse effect.

Chest rubs and elevated pillows may also help relieve a cough.

Cough mixture alternatives that do not contain pholcodine

Suitable for adults:

  • Prospan Cough Syrup 200ml soothes the chest.
  • Vicks Cough Syrup Dry + Chesty 200ml, traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to suppress coughs in adults.
  • Bronchodual Cough Syrup 290ml with althaea officinalis root (marshmallow root), traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to help relieve dry unproductive cough.
  • Sambucol Adult Cough Liquid 250ml, relieves coughs.
  • Benadryl PE Dry Cough and Nasal Congestion 200ml, relieves cough and cold symptoms.
  • Bisolvon Dry Cough Liquid 200ml, suppresses coughs.
  • Robitussin Cough & Chest Congestion 250ml, temporarily relieves cough and chest congestion due to cold and flu.
  • Robitussin Dry Cough Forte 250ml, loosens chest congestion.

Suitable for children:

  • Demazin Kids 6+ Cough + Cold Relief 200ml, suppresses coughs and relieves cold symptoms.
  • Dimetapp Kids Cough and Cold 200ml, relieves common cold symptoms.
  • Dimetapp Kids Cough And Cold Colour Free 200ml, relieves common cold symptoms.
  • Ki Kids Cough & Cold Liquid 200ml, traditionally used in Chinese medicine to relieve symptoms of common colds and coughs.
  • Little Coughs 200ml, for the soothing relief of coughs.
  • Little Coughs Raspberry 200ml, for cough relief.
  • Sambucol Kids Cough Liquid 120ml with hedera helix and sambucus nigra, to reduce excess mucous and relieve cough.
  • Prospan Kids Cough Syrup 200ml, for cough relief.
  • Ease A Cold Kids Cough Cold & Flu Liquid 120ml, relieves coughs in children.

Always read the label and follow the directions for use.

Written by Dan Imhoff.