Certain cough medicines sold behind the counter at pharmacies are being withdrawn over safety concerns.

Health experts say there is a very rare chance that some people could experience an allergic reaction linked to an ingredient called pholcodine.

People should check the packaging of any cough tablets or syrups they have at home to see if pholcodine is listed among the ingredients.

If it is, talk to your pharmacist about taking a different medicine.

Products containing pholcodine do not need a prescription, but cannot be bought without consultation with the pharmacist as they are kept behind the counter.

Medicines containing pholcodine include:

  • Boots Night Cough Relief Oral Solution, PL 00014/0230
  • 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
  • Covonia Dry Cough Sugar Free Formula
  • Pholcodine Linctus Bells Healthcare 5mg Per 5ml Oral Solution
  • Numark Pholcodine 5mg per 5ml Oral Solution
  • Well Pharmaceuticals Pholcodine 5mg per 5ml Oral Solution
  • Superdrug Pholcodine Linctus BP
  • Pholcodine Linctus BP
  • Strong Pholcodine Linctus BP
  • Haleon Day & Night Nurse Capsules
  • Haleon Day Nurse Capsules
  • Haleon Day Nurse

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency described removing the products from sale as a precautionary measure.

Pholcodine has been used as a cough suppressant since the 1950s, but evidence now suggests there is a very small risk or chance – less than one in 10,000 – that some users may have a bad allergic reaction if they later go for surgery and need a general anaesthetic which involves the use of a muscle relaxant or “neuromuscular blocking agent”.

Europe’s medicines regulator has already made the same recommendations to recall cough products containing pholcodine.

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Dr Leyla Hannbeck, from the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said it was a “big operation” to remove the products from pharmacy shelves, but stressed alternative cough and cold 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,” she said.

Prof Claire Anderson, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “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 3-4 weeks. You can treat it with other cough medicines or hot lemon and honey” – although not for babies under the age of one, she cautioned

“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,” said Prof Anderson.

Dr Alison Cave from the MHRA said: “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.”

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