Dear Dr. Mahler:
I have COPD. I heard that if you take Mucinex it helps to breathe better when you have a cold. What are your thoughts about this? It is quite expensive and do not want to buy it if it doesn’t help.
Stella from Revere, MA
Your ask a frequent question as mucus in our breathing tubes (airways) makes it harder to breathe and can be irritating. Mucinex is a brand name for guaifenesin which is meant to relieve cough and mucus in the chest due to a chest cold (bronchitis) or flu. This medicine is an expectorant as it works by signaling the body to increase the amount of hydration (water) in mucus and making it easier to cough up mucus.
From a medical perspective, it is unclear how effective Mucinex is in helping to clear mucus or secretions. Unfortunately, there are no scientific studies that show its benefit compared with a placebo (inactive medication). In my practice, I do not recommend the medication as I believe that drinking lots of water and other liquids achieves the same effect. I do not discourage use if someone wants to try it.
Mucinex is available without a prescription. The usual does is 600 mg one to two times per day. Possible side effects include nausea, vomiting, and allergic reactions. Here is a picture of one type of Mucinex tablets. Make sure to tell you doctor if you are using Mucinex.
As I mentioned above, to loosen mucus in your chest, the most important thing to do is to drinks water as hydration acts to thin secretions and makes it easier to cough the mucus out of your chest.
Donald A. Mahler, M.D.