Codeine may be no cure for cough

Scientists at the University of Manchester's North West Lung Centre have found that codeine - a standard ingredient in cough remedies could be no more effective than an inactive placebo compound at treating cough.

Researchers at the Centre, which is based at Wythenshawe Hospital, studied a sample of patients with chronic lung disease. After coughing was induced with citric acid they were given either codeine or a placebo, and sent home wearing a lapel microphone to record their coughing during the day and night.

Lead researcher Dr. Jacyln Smith said: "Codeine has long been considered the standard anti-cough agent against which others are measured, but until now little has been known about its impact in patients with chronic lung diseases.

"After the placebo treatment the patients' coughing fell from an average of 8.27 seconds per hour to 7.22 seconds, and after codeine to 6.41 seconds.

"Although there was a significant reduction after codeine, from a statistical standpoint there was really no difference between codeine and placebo - despite the fact that the dose of codeine used far exceeds that in over-the-counter cough remedies."

The findings were reported in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, and seem to confirm some medics' view that reductions in coughing after codeine are attributable to a placebo effect.

Dr Smith concluded: "The effective treatment of chronic dry cough is an important unmet need in patients with chronic respiratory diseases, post-viral coughing and persistent coughing of unknown cause. Studies of cough in other clinical situations are urgently needed if codeine is to be continued to be used as a remedy."


For further information please contact:

Jo Nightingale: 0161 275 8156/[email protected] (Mon Weds am and Fri am)
Mikaela Sitford: 0161 275 2111/[email protected] (Weds Fri).

Notes for Editors

The University of Manchester ( is the largest higher education institution in the country, with 24 academic schools and over 36 000 students. Its Faculty of Medical & Human Sciences ( is one of the largest faculties of clinical and health sciences in Europe, with a research income of around 51 million, and the School of Medicine ( is the largest of the its five Schools. It encompasses five teaching hospitals, and is closely linked to general hospitals and community practices across the North West of England.

Formed in 1994, South Manchester University Hospitals Trust is a major acute teaching Trust incorporating Wythenshawe and Withington Hospitals. Outpatient and diagnostic services are also provided at the new Withington Community Hospital, which opened in April 2005.

The North West Lung Centre at Wythenshawe Hospital is a purpose-built unit dedicated to research and treatment of people with respiratory disease. These include asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, sleep disorders and cystic fibrosis. The centre treats on average of 20,000 people per year from all over the North West and further afield.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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