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Cough medicines containing pholcodine withdrawn across UK

Published on 15/03/23 at 12:52pm

Some cough syrups being sold behind the counter at pharmacies are being withdrawn due to safety concerns surrounding potential allergies to an ingredient called pholcodine.

Some experts have explained that certain people could experience allergic reactions to pholcodine, and are recommending that the public check the packaging of any and all cough tablets or syrups they may have at home to check if pholcodine is within the ingredients. If it is listed, patients should speak to a pharmacist about alternative medicines.

Products containing the ingredient in question do not require a prescription, however they cannot be purchased without consulting a pharmacist as they’re kept behind the counter.

Both the MHRA and EMA have recommended the removal of these products, with the MHRA describing the action as a precautionary measure.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, from the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, called it a “big operation” to remove these products from pharmacy shelves, but emphasised that alternative medicines were available: “Pharmacies across the UK take patient safety very seriously and will be assisting with the recall of these products. Patients with coughs and colds should contact their local pharmacy for the best advice about the range of alternative products available.”

Professor Claire Anderson, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, commented: “The risk to patients who have used pholcodine is very small. If you are due to have surgery, please speak to your pharmacist or medical team for advice. A cough usually clears up within three to four weeks. You can treat it with other cough medicines or hot lemon or honey,” adding that this is not suitable for infants under the age of one. “Rest up, if possible – and you can try paracetamol or ibuprofen, if suitable to treat any pain. If your cough persists for longer, seek advice from a healthcare professional.”

Dr Alison Cave, from the MHRA, added: “Safety is our top priority, and we keep the safety of medicines under continual review. Following a thorough scientific safety review of all the available evidence on pholcodine, together with advice from the independent Commission on Human Medicines, it has been recommended, as a precautionary measure, that these products should no longer be used.”


Betsy Goodfellow

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