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WHO Urges Caution with Pholcodine Cough Syrups


Is Pholcodine in Your Cough Syrup? The Surprising Truth and Potential Risks You Need to Know

Recently, a warning has been issued by the esteemed World Health Organisation (WHO), sending shockwaves through the medical community. This alarming message reminds us of the dangers lurking in our medicine cabinets. Brace yourself, for it concerns the cough syrup we may have turned to for relief in times of distress.

Pholcodine is a class of drugs which suppresses cough, minimizing the activity of cough centres in the brain. But with, available data showed that using Pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia with NMBAs is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction (a sudden, severe and life-threatening allergic reaction) to NMBAs.

The medical fraternity is now on its toes, as per the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaration that Pholcodine cough syrups can be life-threatening and contribute to allergic reactions. It is now issuing a safety alert, warning doctors and consumers of the potential dangers of Pholcodine. Seeing the gravity of the situation, the WHO's warning is subjected to those who have consumed pholcodine products at least 6 months before the surgical procedure, involving the administration of general anaesthesia with neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBAs)

Regulatory Authority in Action

With the issued advisory spreading like wildfire, some regulatory authorities have withdrawn the prescriptions for over-the-counter preparations containing Pholcodine from their markets, including the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Australia, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the United Kingdom, and the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (NPRA), Malaysia. 

Advisory issued for Healthcare Professionals & Consumers

With an air of uncertainty brewing in the medical field, the syrup that saved us is now waging war against our existence. Besides, advice has been issued for healthcare professionals and consumers, which says- 

Healthcare professionals

  • Recheck if the patients who had taken or undergone general anaesthesia with NMBAs have used Pholcodine in the previous 12 months and be aware of the risk of anaphylactic reactions in these patients.
  • Advise patients on cancelling the usage of Pholcodine while replacing the same with other alternatives to treat the patients. 


  • If you require general anaesthesia or have consumed Pholcodine in the last 12 months, you must notify your health expert before the actual procedures. 
  • You need to look if the over-the-counter cold medication contains Pholcodine. It is specifically used in treating coughs and can be found in medicines. 

Therefore, WHO remains vigilant regarding the wide usage of pholcodine-containing products and the serious reactions they may cause. 

Findings of UK

In this uncertain landscape, the UK's health regulator found traces of anaphylaxis, causing increased risk in patients' lives. In light of this alarming discovery, it is acknowledged by the UK's independent body of the safety and quality of medicine that the products are cancelled and removed altogether from the market.

To combat this nuisance early, people should be encouraged to pay attention to the packaging and labelling of cough medicines and the patient information leaflets to verify whether the Pholcodine ingredient is listed. And if it is true, then contact the pharmacists, in this case, of a communicated issue. 

No wonder it is only when we understand the implications of something that we realize that our health has been compromised unknowingly. 

The President of the Royal pharmaceutical society believes that products, like cough suppressants, have to be uninstalled from the medical markets due to their underlying potential to cause allergic reactions, which otherwise could cause potential harm to people dealing with surgeries and problems. 

To demystify the statement in the headlines, there is no increased risk of allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis and other allergens rich in anaphylaxis and risks with those who have consumed the same in small quantities, which needs to be communicated with your pharmacists or surgical team. 

And Yet again, it asks individuals to limit their usage before they shift their blind faith in the pharmaceutical industry, only to realize how severe it had been. 

List of Medicines Containing Pholcodine

The list of medicines which contain Pholcodine is as follows-

  • Boots Night Cough Relief Oral Solution, PL 00014/0230
  • Covonia Dry Cough Sugar-Free Formula
  • Boots Dry Cough Syrup 6 Years+
  • Boots Day Cold & Flu Relief Oral Solution
  • Cofsed Linctus
  • Care Pholcodine 5mg/5ml Oral Solution Sugar-Free
  • Galenphol Linctus
  • Galenphol Paediatric Linctus
  • Galenphol Strong Linctus 

As per the ruled advisory, the sale of such medicines has been withdrawn from the medical market. The urgency arising from this statement cannot be overstated because your health is at stake, which calls for you to take immediate action. Having been informed of the advisory, such medicines must be taken off the medical market as a precautionary measure. Contact your pharmacist if you have a cough or cold and want alternative medicines.

The First Line of Treatment for Cold & Cough

To create a ripple awareness amongst all, you need to keep them informed about the first line of treatment that comes with it. To scoff the flu, you have several options. The remedies which can be adopted besides antibiotics medication are as follows-

  • Honey:- It adds sweetness to our taste buds and can be consumed with ginger and cinnamon tea, relieving the coarse throat.
  • Gargle with Salt Water:- We are not alien to this "GHARELU NUSKA" or home remedy, which our grandmothers have blessed us with. These age-old remedies have done wonders and continue to until today. To cure the flu, you may have ½ teaspoon of salt added to warm water, which can help relieve the sore throat. 
  • Hot liquids:- The consumption of hot liquids is a boon to relieving nasal congestion and can soothe your throat. 

You may try natural remedies initially before taking antibiotics or syrups. 

Final Thoughts

We have come to a point where the distribution of pholcodine syrups, which once used to be our saviour, now holds us in the clutches waiting to turn the tables. Today, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a safety alert, warning us of the misery befalling us. That said, it has asked to eliminate pholcodine usage to avoid potential dangers. The risks associated with cough and cold remedies have even been validated by the Drug regulator's subject Expert Committee (SEC) in a meeting that took place earlier. Due to the adverse effects of Pholcodine, its consumption has been limited.

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not corpseed, and have not been evaluated by corpseed for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.


Hansika Bhardwaj is a versatile writer, editor and poet.  She is a graduate of the University of Delhi with a specialisation in English Literature. As a cherry on the cake, she has worked with various companies dealing with various types o...

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