Can You Eat Too Many Cough Drops?

Anyone who's been sick knows how irritating a cough or sore throat can be. It can keep you awake at night, become a barrier for maintaining focus, and just put an overall damper on your day. That is why it is understandable when you pop in a cough drop to get immediate relief from those annoying and painful cold and flu symptoms. According to MadeHow, a cough drop's ingredients are similar to that of a hard candy and include sugar, corn syrup, flavors, and colorings. The typical active ingredients that give the drop their throat-soothing quality are menthol and eucalyptus oil. Now that we know a cough drop is basically a hard candy with essential oils added, you may wonder if it possible to consume too many?

Healthline states that while it is possible to overdose on cough drops containing the ingredient menthol, it is highly unlikely. A menthol overdose can occur after the ingestion of a heavy dose of pure menthol. A deadly dose of the substance is guessed to be around 1,000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Cough drop recipes typically dilute the menthol with water and other ingredients, which means that cough drops usually only contain between 3 to 10 milligrams of menthol per drop.

Too many cough drops might cause these uncomfortable symptoms

So unless your eating cough drops for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between for weeks on end, the chance of an overdose is minuscule. The death card may be off the table, but there are some uncomfortable symptoms that may occur if you rely too heavily on these soothing lozenges. Healthline lists stomach pain, vomiting, rapid heart rate, and confusion, as some side effects of overuse to be aware of. Cough drops should also be treated like any other medication, and the instructions on the box should be read through carefully. 

Medical News Today reports that in rare cases, exposure to menthol has led to allergic reactions of the skin, or contact dermatitis. The ingredient menthol can also be an irritant for people who are known to have more sensitive skin. And as mentioned previously, cough drops contain the same ingredients as hard candy, which means sugar is lurking behind other active throat-soothing ingredients. Healthline recommends not making a habit of sucking on cough drops on a regular basis as the excess sugar can contribute to weight gain. Now that we know cough drops are not a danger to our health if taken in moderation, we can happily keep using them when we need to mask the irritating symptoms of a cough and get on with our day.

Sugar-free cough drops could cause digestive discomfort

Cough drops on their own can cause stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting if eaten in excess, reports Healthline. However, sugar-free cough drops could pose some distinctly unpleasant digestive issues if over consumed as well. In lieu of sugar, these products contain sorbitol — a sugar alcohol that promotes the slow absorption of water into the small intestine, which in turn, kicks our bowels into gear and creates a laxative effect, according to research published in the journal Lipids and Edible Oils.

While sometimes used by doctors to treat those with constipation (via Cleveland Clinic), eating large quantities of sorbitol can lead to diarrhea, cramping, and gas. However, in some people, even small amounts of sorbitol are enough to cause them digestive discomfort — even amounts less than an average laxative dose (per Lipids and Edible Oils). Additionally, gastrointestinal side effects may be particularly aggravated in those with certain health conditions, such as diabetes. Therefore, it's important to be mindful of our sorbitol intake and take it easy on the sugar-free cough drops.