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Mucinex: What is it? Uses, Costs, Benefits, and Doses

Mucus is a part of our everyday lives, but it’s not something we usually think about until it becomes a problem and we have too much of it. Approximately half of all colds have a cough associated with them, usually kicking in right around the time your nasal congestion symptoms start to improve. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever experienced chest congestion, sore throat and a lingering, wet cough that lasts for weeks (and who hasn’t?), then you know exactly how the expression “It feels like I’m hacking up a lung!” was born. When we end up with a nasty cough that won’t go away, the one thing we need to do - get the extra gunk out of our lungs by coughing - is the one thing we can’t do. You cough and cough and nothing comes up. Mucinex is a medication designed to help you get over those coughs that won’t quit and get your normal life back.

What is Mucinex?

You’ve probably heard of Mucinex before, but you may not realize just how many different varieties of the medication are available. You also may not know that Mucinex can be purchased both over the counter and at prescription drug strength. Mucinex, which is sold under the generic name guaifenesin, is an expectorant that helps to loosen and thin congestion in your chest and throat. The looser and thinner the mucus in your chest and throat is, the easier it is to cough it up and get rid of it, getting you on the path to feeling better faster. Mucinex can be purchased as a cough expectorant only, as a cough expectorant combined with a decongestant (Mucinex D), and as a cough expectorant combined with antihistamines, cough suppressants, and decongestants (Mucinex DM). Mucinex also sells products designed to tackle cold and flu and sinus issues as well. 
 
The generic form of Mucinex, guaifenesin, is sold under many brand names, including:  Actifed CC Chesty Cough, Benadryl Chesty Forte, Bronchoril, G Bid, GG-Cen, Ganidin NR, Guaiatussin, Guaifenesin LA, Guiatuss, Humavent LA, Humibid, Mucinex, Mucinex Maximum Strength, Max Strength, Mucinex for Kids, Mucus Relief, Congestion relief, Nirolex Chesty Cough, Organidin NR, Pneumomist, Robafen, Robitussin Chest Congestion, Sorbutuss, Strepsils Chesty Cough, Touro EX, Tussin, Tussin Expectorant

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What is Mucinex used to treat?

Depending on what type of Mucinex you purchase, you can treat any number of ailments from a stubborn cough and chest congestion to cold and flu or sinus pressure issues. Mucinex is focused on fighting congestion and loosening up mucus, so all of the associated products include ingredients that loosen and thin mucus. 

What causes chest congestion and what makes it so difficult to get rid of?

We need mucus in order for our bodies to function each day. When we are healthy, we produce the right amount of mucus needed to protect, moisten, and defend our airways. The mucus membranes that line your mouth, nose, throat, sinuses, and lungs are part of your body’s first defense against infection, keeping out dust, allergens, irritants, bacteria, and viruses. When we have an infection, such as the cold or flu, or are exposed to allergens or airborne pollution, our bodies can begin to produce too much mucus. 
 
What happens when our bodies produce too much mucus? Congestion, of course. If the mucus becomes too thick, dense, or dry, it is unable to do its job and bacteria can start to grow, causing an infection. That’s when you’ll start to notice symptoms like chest congestion, more colds, a wet or hacking cough, and extra congestion in the mornings. Your body is coughing because it’s trying to break up and get rid of all that extra mucus. 

How does Mucinex treat chest congestion?

Depending on which type of Mucinex you buy, you may have many different active ingredients working on a variety of symptoms. However, in order to treat chest congestion specifically, Mucinex works by thinning bronchial secretions and thinning the mucus in the air passages. While the medication works to thin the mucus, it also starts to loosen it. When mucus is thinner and looser, it is easier to expel, which means that your cough will actually be productive. As you continue to cough, your body will be able to slowly remove phlegm and mucus from the lungs and airways, helping you to feel better. Unless you specifically purchase a type of Mucinex that includes a cough suppressant, you’ll still be coughing, but your cough will be able to do its job and get the mucus out of there for good! Mucinex does not treat the cause of congestion, meaning it does not kill bacteria that may be causing an infection, does not treat the cold or flu, does not prevent airborne pollution, and does not treat allergies. However, it treats the most bothersome symptoms associated with chest congestion. 

How much does Mucinex cost?

As previously established, Mucinex comes in many different formulas to treat a variety of symptoms you may be experiencing. Mucinex can also be purchased in numerous forms, including an oral tablet, solution, syrup, packet, liquid, and nasal spray, depending on both the symptoms to be treated and the personal preference of the patient. Mucinex is relatively inexpensive in general, but for those looking to save additional money, the generic form of the drug, guaifenesin, may also be purchased. For comparison’s sake, we will review the costs of both Mucinex and guaifenesin in the form of 600 mg extended release oral tablets.

Approximate Costs of Mucinex and Guaifenesin

 

 

Mucinex

Guaifenesin

 

Per Pill

Pack of 20

Per Pill

Pack of 20

600 mg oral tablet

$0.98

$19.64

$0.57

$11.30

What are the benefits of using Mucinex?

The biggest benefit to using Mucinex is that the medication may help you feel better by thinning and loosening mucus in your body and leading to a productive cough. Mucinex does not treat the root cause of chest congestion, meaning it does not kill bacteria that may be causing an infection, does not treat the cold or flu, does not prevent airborne pollution, and does not treat allergies, and it does not shorten the length of time that you’re likely to feel sick. It can help you get some of that gunk out of your chest, though!

How do I know which dose of Mucinex I should take?

Because there are so many different types of Mucinex and the medication comes in a variety of forms, the best advice regarding dosage is generally to follow the directions listed on the package of the specific product that you buy. Regardless of the type of Mucinex you use, you’ll want to drink plenty of water when taking it in order to stay hydrated and provide plenty of fluids for your body to help loosen the mucus. Extended release tablets should not be cut, crushed, or chewed and should be taken whole. Mucinex can be taken with or without food.
 
The standard adult dose for a cough depends on which type of formula is being used. The immediate release formula recommends a dose of 200 to 400 mg orally every 4 hours as needed, not to exceed 2400 mg per day. The sustained/extended release formula recommends an adult dose of 600 to 1200 mg every 12 hours, not to exceed 2400 mg/day.
 
Pediatric dosing recommendations are tricky. You must follow the package directions very closely when giving Mucinex to children, as the dose will vary based on their age and weight. In general, Mucinex should not be given to children under four years of age without speaking to a doctor or healthcare provider first. Using the immediate release formula, a dose for children between two and five years of age would be approximately 50 to 100 mg orally every 4 hours as needed, not to exceed 600 mg per day. Children between six and  eleven years of age would take approximately 100 to 200 mg orally every 4 hours as needed, not to exceed 1200 mg per day. Children aged 12 years or older may take approximately 200 to 400 mg orally every 4 hours as needed, not to exceed 2400 mg per day. 
 
The sustained/extended release formula comes with different recommendations for children. Using the sustained/extended release formula, children between two and five years of age may take approximately 300 mg orally every 12 hours, not to exceed 600 mg per day. Children between six and eleven years of age may take approximately 600 mg orally every 12 hours, not to exceed 1200 mg per day.  Children ages 12 years or older may take approximately 600 to 1200 mg orally every 12 hours, not to exceed 2400 mg per day. 

How do I use Mucinex to treat chest congestion?

Regardless of which Mucinex formula you choose and what form it comes in, there are a few tips that always apply. The medication can be taken with or without food, but it’s recommended that you drink a full glass of water while taking it and extra fluids during your entire course of treatment. The extra hydration will help loosen the congestion and lubricate your through. If you’re using the tablet form, do not crush, chew, or break the tablet, as this can impact the medication’s effectiveness. Unless you are taking Mucinex that includes a cough suppressant, you will not stop coughing, but you will be more easily able to clear secretions. Some people feel more sleepy after taking Mucinex, while others feel more alert, so do not drive or operate heavy machinery until you know how it affects you. You should see a doctor if your cough worsens or you get a fever, rash, or headache, or your cough lasts more than seven days.

Are there any side effects I should be aware of?

The side effects associated with Mucinex are generally mild and usually do not require medical attention. Some people experience side effects when they first start taking Mucinex but find that they subside as their bodies adjust to the medication. Some side effects associated with Mucinex can be prevented, so if you are concerned about experiencing them, you should talk to your doctor about ways to prevent them. Common side effects of Mucinex include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach upset
  • Stomach pain

Less common side effects of Mucinex include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Skin rash
  • Persistent Headache 

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to Mucinex or may need to contact the poison control center. Seek medical help or medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Swelling, itching, or redness of the face
  • Tongue swelling
  • Difficulty talking or breathing
  • Skin rash or hives

Is Mucinex considered safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women?

Mucinex is an FDA-designated Class C drug for pregnant women, meaning that it is only recommended for use during pregnancy when the benefit outweighs the risk. Existing data does not show an association between Mucinex and birth defects, but there is no controlled data on human pregnancy currently available. Because of the lack of conclusive drug information regarding Mucinex’s effect on unborn children, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor before using the medication. Additionally, no studies exist that confirm that Mucinex passes through breast milk. However, the manufacturer recommends that due to the potential for serious adverse reactions in nursing infants, the mother should make a decision to  either discontinue nursing if using Mucinex or discontinue use of the drug. Nursing mothers should speak to their doctors prior to taking Mucinex. 

Who should not take Mucinex?

Mucinex may not be suitable for people with a persistent cough due to asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or smoking, or who have a cough producing excessive amounts of phlegm. Pregnant and nursing mothers should use caution when using Mucinex and should speak to their doctors prior to taking the medication. 

How do I know if Mucinex is right for me?

If you are struggling with a persistent, unproductive cough, Mucinex may be able to help. The medication is readily available over the counter (otc), inexpensive, and can help your body safely eliminate excess phlegm and excess mucus. Mucinex’s over-the-counter formulas can be a good place to start in hopes of finding relief prior to turning to prescription-strength or maximum strength mucinex forms of the medication.

Published March 27th, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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