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Dextromethorphan Dangers: Why Cough Syrup is Being Pulled from the Market

Updated on March 12, 2011

Dextromethorphan is a drug used to relieve the cough in the common cold.  It is commonly found in many over-the-counter cough medications for both adults and children. Dextromethorphan is only meant to relieve a cough, and it does not effectively treat any other symptoms associated with the common cold. It works be reducing action in the brain so that the coughing will stop. It comes in the form of a pill filled with liquid, a strip, a liquid, long lasting liquid and lozenge.  Side effects that can happen and should be reported to your doctor right are dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness, nervousness, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and a rash. Dextromethorphan can have other side effects, so anything that does not seem right needs to be reported to a physician. Dextromethorphan is used in popular brand name medications such as Vicks 44, Zicam, Nyquil, Alka-Seltzer, Comtrex, Dimetapp, Robitussin, Mucinex, and a lot more. 

Some of the downsides to the use of dextromethorphan include abuse among teenagers and young adults. Teenagers refer to this as Robo-tripping, which is slang for overdosing on cough medicine that contains dextromethorphan or DXM. Symptoms of dextromethorphan overdose include visual and auditory hallucinations, heart palpitations, breathing problems, blurred vision, nausea, dizziness, and convulsions. Other psychiatric symptoms have also been noted in some teens who abuse dextromethorphan or cough medicine that contains DXM. These symptoms include anxiety, depression, delusions, and related psychotic symptoms. For this reason, people who abuse dextromethorphan on a regular basis may be more likely to commit certain types of crimes either while under the influence or after abusing cough medicine.

Aside from the implications of cough medicine abuse, there are other concerns among medical researchers regarding the use of these types of medications to treat cold symptoms. In young children, the side effects can outweigh the actual benefit of the medication itself. Dextromethorphan only treats a cough. It does nothing for other cold symptoms, and it cannot shorten the duration of a cold. These medications have been found to be mostly ineffective for treating cold and cough symptoms. Dextromethorphan should never be used in a child with asthma, and it can exacerbate asthma symptoms and increase breathing problems.

Child deaths linked to the use of dextromethorphan led to an FDA hearing in 2007. This hearing led to the government regulatory agency banning cough medicine in children under the age of 4. Prior to that, cough medicine was recommended for use in children under the age of two. Due to increasing concerns since that time, the FDA has further amended the recommendation. It is now advised that cough medicine not be used in children under the age of six.


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  • swedal profile image

    swedal 6 years ago from Colorado

    Yes Tina, when those kids come along you want to avoid this stuff. ;)

  • TinaTango profile image

    TinaTango 6 years ago

    Wow- amazing article! I know what to look out for when I eventually have kids - if such thing will ever happen! lol

  • swedal profile image

    swedal 6 years ago from Colorado

    You sure are vindicated Delores! Thanks for that!

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

    When my daughter was young, we gave her honey for a cold or cough. I hated the idea of giving her cough medicine. Certain family members thought I was mean but now I am vindicated!