14 March 2023

Which cough medicines have been withdrawn from sale and why

14 March 2023

Popular cough medicines are being withdrawn from sale over fears people may suffer a serious allergic reaction.

– What has happened?

Watchdog the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has ordered some products off the shelves over worries about the potential for people to suffer a rare allergic reaction.

It says cough medicines containing the ingredient pholcodine are being recalled and withdrawn from the UK “as a precaution”.

This follows assessment of the risk of “very rare” anaphylaxis – a major allergic reaction – when people who have taken pholcodine in the previous 12 months have a general anaesthetic with neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBA).

The MHRA said: “The available data has demonstrated that pholcodine use, particularly in the 12 months before general anaesthesia with NMBAs, is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction to NMBAs.”

– What are NMBAs?

Neuromuscular blocking drugs are also known as muscle relaxants and data suggests they are used in around half of general anaesthetics administered in the UK.

NMBAs block the transmission of signals between motor nerve endings and skeletal muscles, preventing the affected muscles from contracting.

One use is when a patient needs to be intubated, with the NMBA paralysing or relaxing the jaw and the vocal cords.

– Which products are being withdrawn?

The following products have been recalled:

Boots Night Cough Relief Oral Solution, PL 00014/0230Boots Dry Cough Syrup 6 Years+, PL 00014/0523Boots Day Cold & Flu Relief Oral Solution, PL 00014/0565Cofsed Linctus, PL 00240/0097Care Pholcodine 5mg/5ml Oral Solution Sugar Free, PL 00240/0101Galenphol Linctus, PL 00240/0101Galenphol Paediatric Linctus, PL 00240/0102Galenphol Strong Linctus, PL 00240/0103Covonia Dry Cough Sugar Free Formula, PL 00240/0353Pholcodine Linctus Bells Healthcare 5mg Per 5ml Oral Solution, PL 03105/0059Numark Pholcodine 5mg per 5ml Oral Solution, PL 03105/0059Well Pharmaceuticals Pholcodine 5mg per 5ml Oral Solution, PL 03105/0059Superdrug Pholcodine Linctus BP, PL 03105/0059Strong Pholcodine Linctus BP, PL 03105/0060Pholcodine Linctus BP, PL 04917/0002Strong Pholcodine Linctus BP, PL 04917/0005Pholcodine Linctus, PL 12965/0030Day & Night Nurse Capsules, PL 44673/0068Day Nurse Capsules, PL 44673/0069Day Nurse, PL 44673/0075

– What should patients do?

Patients are being advised to tell their anaesthetist if they think they have taken pholcodine in the previous year and are about to undergo general anaesthetic.

The MHRA says people should also check products in their home (such as the packaging, label or patient information leaflet) to see if any contain pholcodine.

It said people can talk to their pharmacist about other suitable medications for relief from coughing.

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