Being tormented by a horrible cough? Ready to reach for Virtussin AC syrup or any combination of guaifenesin with codeine? Read this article before you take any guaifenesin codeine syrup to figure out if it’s really the best medicine for you!
What You Need to Know About Virtussin AC Syrup
Virtussin AC syrup is a common cough medication, typically taken by people with colds. It goes by many different names, including Robitussin AC, Robafen, Cheratussin AC, Mytussin AC, and Guaiatussin AC syrup.
But before you take Virtussin AC syrup or any similar product, read our seven key facts so you can be fully informed before you take your first dose.
#1: Virtussin AC May Help Your Cough…
Virtussin AC has two active ingredients: guaifenesin and codeine.
Guaifenesin is an expectorant, which means it makes it easier for your body to expel mucus when you cough. It does this primarily by thinning out your mucus.
Codeine, on the other hand, is a cough suppressant. It basically quiets down the part of your brain that triggers the cough reflex so you cough less. It also has sedative and pain-relieving effects, which may cause relief of some of the other symptoms associated with coughing, like pain and poor sleep.
Essentially, the codeine will suppress your urge to cough, and guaifenesin will make coughing up mucus easier when you do cough. Together, these two things should lead to less frequent, less painful coughing.
However, note that if your cough is very wet, it may be best to avoid taking cough suppressant and go for just an expectorant instead. With a wet cough, your body is trying to clear the infection—let it!
#2: But It Won’t Cure Your Cold
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the common cold. Virtussin AC syrup may address some of your symptoms, but it won’t make your cold go away faster.
In fact, sometimes people prolong their colds when they take medicine because they start to feel better and then overexert themselves! Even if you start to feel better, it’s critical to rest and hydrate.
Some doctors have argued that even for symptomatic relief, cold medicines like Virtussin AC are basically placebos. The truth is, the scientific evidence for how effective these products are is inconclusive. You can certainly try Virtussin AC to see if it makes you feel better just so long as you stay aware of any side effects (see facts #5 and #6).
If you have a cough that lingers more than a couple of weeks, see a doctor to make sure it’s not something more than a cold. Note that Virtussin is also ineffective for coughing caused by long-term chronic conditions like asthma, emphysema, or smoking.
#3: It May Be Hard to Get Virtussin AC Over the Counter
In some states, guaifenesin with codeine can be sold as a “behind the counter” drug, most typically as Cheratussin AC syrup or Robitussin AC. This means that if you are an adult with a valid ID, you can legally get a small quantity without a prescription at the discretion of the pharmacist. (They are called “behind the counter” drugs because they are typically stocked behind the counter and you have to ask the pharmacist for it.)
However, many large chains like Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid have policies against giving guaifenesin codeine syrup (or any technically OTC codeine syrup) without a prescription even if it’s legal in your state. Independent pharmacies are your best bet for finding Virtussin AC over-the-counter.
It may ultimately be simplest to go to a doctor to get a prescription for whatever your doctor thinks will best address your symptoms, whether that’s Virtussin syrup or something else. (Or no prescription! Home remedies for colds may work just as well depending on your symptoms).
#4: Virtussin AC Is a Narcotic
Codeine, one of the active ingredients of Virtussin syrup, is a narcotic and an opiate. This means that it has addictive potential. While you will be fine if you take the directed dose—typically no more than 20 mg of codeine every 4-6 hours—it’s dangerous to take more than that. Even then, you may experience some withdrawal symptoms (like nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, chills and shivers, sweating, and anxiety) if you take codeine guaifenesin syrup for more than a few weeks.
Because of the codeine, people may attempt to get a Virtussin AC high. Drinks made from a mixture of one or more cough syrup formulations, soda, and sometimes jolly ranchers are known as “sizzurp” and “lean.” These combinations can be very dangerous, leading to long-term negative effects or even overdose. This is why the purchase of codeine cough syrup is restricted and monitored even in states where it is available without a prescription.
#5: Taking a Large Dose Is Dangerous
There are some potentially serious Virtussin AC syrup side effects, especially if you take a large dose. Unpleasant but normal side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, and mild constipation. Serious side effects include confusion; extreme drowsiness/difficulty waking; noisy, slow, or shallow, breathing; fast or irregular heartbeat; difficulty urinating, and severe constipation. See a doctor if you experience any of these.
As we noted, you should take no more than 20 mg of the codeine component every 4-6 hours, and no more than 120 mg of codeine per day. So if you are taking a liquid formulation with 9 mg of codeine/200 mg guaifenesin in every 15 ml, take no more than 30 ml every 4-6 hours and no more than 180 ml total to appropriately limit your codeine intake.
For guaifenesin, take no more than 400 mg every 4-6 hours or 2400 mg/day.
Some people naturally metabolize more codeine than others. If you have never taken codeine before, start with a conservative dose to avoid negative side effects like dangerously slowed breathing.
#6: Don’t Drink Alcohol or Drive on Virtussin
One of the major Virtussin AC syrup side effects is drowsiness and dizziness. Because of this, you should not drive or operate heavy or dangerous machinery while on guaifenesin with codeine.
There are also some dangerous drug interactions with Virtussin syrup. Taking any depressant with Virtussin AC can lead to dangerously slow breathing and even death. Depressants include alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and other opioids.
Do not take any other drug that causes drowsiness or can slow breathing while taking Virtussin AC syrup (or any other similar formulation, like Cheratussin AC syrup or Robitussin AC syrup).
#7: Guaifenesin With Codeine Is Not Safe for Children
Children should not take any cough syrup or medicine that contains codeine or tramadol, according to the FDA. They do not appear to be particularly effective and may be unsafe.
Additionally, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid cough products with codeine, as it may lead to dependency in infants.
Guaifenesin With Codeine: Key Facts Summary
Before you take Virtussin AC syrup or any similar product, here’s what you need to know:
- Products with codeine and guaifenesin contain both a suppressant and an expectorant, which will suppress your urge to cough and thin out your mucus so that your coughs are less difficult and more productive.
- However, Virtussin syrup won’t cure your cold or make it shorter. And if you don’t get enough rest and fluids because you feel better, you could actually make it last longer!
- It may be hard for you to find and guaifenesin codeine syrup over the counter, even in states where it is legal to get without a prescription.
- This is primarily because products like Virtussin AC syrup, Robitussin AC, and Cheratussin AC contain a narcotic. Codeine is an opioid and has addictive potential, so only take the directed dose.
- Taking a large dose of Virtussin AC syrup can have serious side effects, including confusion, slowed breathing, irregular heartbeat, and even death.
- Do not take Virtussin AC syrup with any depressant (like alcohol) or any other product that causes drowsiness or slows breathing. Also, don’t drive or operate heavy machinery while taking guaifenesin with codeine because one of the main virtussin ac syrup side effects is drowsiness.
- Virtussin AC syrup is not safe for children, or for pregnant or breastfeeding women.