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What to Expect From Expectorants

Irwin Ziment, MD
JAMA. 1976;236(2):193-194. doi:10.1001/jama.1976.03270020061034.
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DO MEDICATIONS really help mobilize mucus from the respiratory tract? Are the traditional physicians correct when they try to get the asthmatic child to "vomit" sputum out of the lungs? Do all the numerous cough and cold mixtures have any more effect on expectoration than the glass of water used to wash the medication down? Are inhaled agents superior to those administered by mouth? These are difficult questions to answer, and reliable information is scanty—mainly because of the well-recognized difficulty in quantifying and qualifying a patient's sputum. Nevertheless, many physicians and more patients are convinced that certain favored prescriptions do have a beneficial effect on respiratory secretions.

Traditional and Modern Expectorants  The various American formularies and pharmacopeias are relatively reluctant to praise the traditional expectorants, but an English drug encyclopedia, Martindale's Extra Pharmacopoeia, lists a surprisingly large range of such medications that are undoubtedly foisted by British physicians on their


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