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Bellin Health doctor's findings prompt study of excessive cough drop use

Dr. Robert Mead of Bellin Health talks with FOX 11 about his observations with his patients' cough drop usage on Mrach 12, 2018. (Photo credit: WLUK)

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (WLUK) -- A new study might make you think twice the next time you reach for a cough drop.

Dr. Robert Mead, a family medicine physician for Bellin Health, helped influence the study.

“I don't think they do anything,” Mead said of cough drops. “I think they're a problem.”

Mead eventually started asking his patients specific questions about their cough drop use. Then, he started asking patients to stop using them. Mead says he found patients' coughs started disappearing within days of dropping cough drops.

“We'd document how much they'd be taking,” said Mead. “People were taking 20 cough drops a day. To me, I said that can't be good.”

Mead asked the Wisconsin Research and Education Network with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health to look further into the issue.


“When he gave me some of his observations, I immediately began thinking this might have legs,” said Dr. David Hahn, the director of the Wisconsin Research and Education Network.

In a survey of 548 people, researchers say they found a direct correlation between the severity of someone's cough and how much menthol they were consuming in cough drops.

“I don't think the evidence proves cause and effect just yet,” said Hahn. “That would require more research, probably going back into a physiology lab and doing some healthy human volunteer subject research on menthol and cough reflex.”

FOX 11 reached out to several cough drop manufacturers to get their reaction to the study. However, we haven't heard back from any yet.

FOX 11 also could only find vague usage recommendations on several packages. Mead says he found the same thing, which he says is a problem.

“It's just a perfect storm for people to overuse them,” said Mead.

Mead hopes this study will lead to more research and will also influence other doctors to start asking patients about their cough drop use.

Mead says the study is the first to look at the possible side effects and overuse of cough drops.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

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