Side Effects of Expectorants


Expectorants are commonly found in over-the-counter medications that are used to treat the symptoms of a cold or bothersome cough. An expectorant causes excess phlegm in the lungs to loosen, which makes it easier for someone to expel it from their lungs. The most commonly used expectorant is guaifenisin, which is marketed and sold under various brand names. When using an expectorant, do not take it with an anti-histamine, because the anti-histamine dries up the phlegm in the lungs, negating the effects of the expectorant. Expectorants are safe to use, but as with any medication, there are some possible side effects.


  • Nausea is a commonly reported side effect of expectorants. This occurs because the body may not have developed a tolerance to the expectorant. The body should develop a tolerance to the expectorant within three to four days of taking the first
    dose. After this three to four day period, any feelings of nausea should be very minimal. If nausea persists with the use of the expectorant, consider asking your doctor or pharmacist about other treatment options.

Gastrointestinal Distress

  • Gastrointestinal distress may occur from the use of an expectorant. Common symptoms of gastrointestinal distress include diarrhea, constipation and stomach cramping. Following a healthy diet that is rich in fiber while you are using expectorant will decrease the likelihood that you experience gastrointestinal distress during use. Increasing fluid intake will also help prevent this side effect.

Sleep Complications and Drowsiness

  • Some people experience sleep complications, such as insomnia, when using expectorants. To help avoid sleep complications, make sure to use the expectorant well in advance of when you plan to sleep. Alternately, expectorants cause some people to feel drowsy. If this occurs, exercise caution when operating machinery, driving a car and when making important decisions. If either sleep complications or drowsiness occur consistently while using an expectorant, consider trying a different

Skin Related Side Effects

  • Some people may experience skin-related side effects when taking an expectorant, including itchiness, rash or hives. Additionally, more severe reactions may occur from use including swelling of the throat, lips and other parts of the body. In the case of internal swelling, contact your local emergency medical technicians immediately. If you experience any of these side effects, discontinue use of expectorant and choose a different treatment option.


  • While taking an expectorant, make sure to increase fluid intake to avoid dehydration and constipation. Women that are pregnant should consult their physician before using over-the-counter medications. The product label of all medications should be read carefully, especially by people who have a preexisting medical condition. If any questions of how to use the medication arise, consult a pharmacist.

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  • Photo Credit "105/365: Where's Waldo?" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: Betsssssy (Betsy Fletcher) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.
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