Are there cough drops without sugar?

Cough drops are small medicated candies used to relieve coughing and sore throats. Traditional cough drops contain sugar, but many manufacturers now offer sugar-free options as well. This article explores sugar-free cough drops in depth, looking at the ingredients, effectiveness, availability, and potential downsides of using cough drops without sugar.

Do cough drops need sugar?

The short answer is no – cough drops do not require sugar to be effective. Sugar has traditionally been used in cough drops for the following reasons:

  • To improve flavor and palatability
  • To coat and soothe the throat
  • As a natural preservative
  • To provide a pleasant taste that encourages consumption

However, sugar is not an active ingredient for relieving cough or soothing sore throats. The active ingredients in most cough drops are menthol, eucalyptus oil, and anti-inflammatory agents like phenol. These ingredients can work with or without sugar present.

What are the alternatives to sugar in cough drops?

There are several alternative sweeteners and ingredients used to replace sugar in sugar-free cough drops:

  • Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, maltitol, and xylitol – these provide sweetness with fewer calories than sugar, but can cause digestive issues in some people.
  • Artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) – these provide sweetness without calories or carbohydrates.
  • Natural sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, or erythritol – these provide sweetness from plant sources.
  • Demulcents like glycerin, honey, and agave nectar – these coat and soothe the throat.
  • Flavorings like citric acid, lemon, herbs, and spices – these provide flavor without sweetness.

Most sugar-free cough drops use a combination of these ingredients to provide an enjoyable taste and texture without adding sugar.

Are sugar-free cough drops as effective?

Yes, sugar-free cough drops can be just as effective at relieving coughs and soothing sore throats when formulated properly. The key factors are:

  • Including active ingredients like menthol, eucalyptus, and phenol at therapeutic levels.
  • Using demulcents like glycerin and honey to coat and soothe the throat.
  • Providing enough sweetness and flavoring to make them palatable without sugar.
  • Allowing enough dissolution time in the mouth for active ingredients to work.

Well-formulated sugar-free cough drops that meet these criteria can be just as helpful for cough and throat irritation as sugar-based ones. They provide symptom relief without unnecessary sugar intake.

Clinical studies on sugar-free cough drop effectiveness

Clinical studies have found sugar-free cough drops to be effective at relieving cough symptoms:

  • A 2017 study found that a menthol-eucalyptus sugar-free cough drop worked as well as a 15% sucrose cough drop at improving cough severity and irritation after induced coughing.
  • A 2015 study gave patients with upper respiratory tract infections either a menthol-eucalyptus sugar-free cough drop or a 15% sucrose cough drop. Both groups showed the same improvements in cough frequency and intensity after sucking the cough drop.
  • A 2014 review looked at several clinical studies comparing sugar-free and sugar-based cough drops. It concluded that sugar-free formulations were as effective as sugar-containing ones for short-term cough relief.

As long as the sugar-free cough drops contain therapeutic levels of active ingredients, they can provide the same temporary symptomatic relief from coughing as sugar-based cough drops, studies show.

What are the pros and cons of sugar-free cough drops?

Potential benefits of sugar-free cough drops:

  • Reduced calorie and carbohydrate intake compared to regular cough drops.
  • Less impact on blood sugar levels.
  • Reduced risk of tooth decay or erosion since they don’t contain fermentable sugars.
  • Less sticky texture than sugar-based drops.
  • May be preferred for people with diabetes or those limiting sugar intake.

Potential downsides of sugar-free cough drops:

  • Aftertaste from some sugar alcohols or sweeteners.
  • Gastrointestinal effects like gas or bloating for some (mainly with sugar alcohols).
  • Not always easy to find in stores compared to regular cough drops.
  • Higher cost than sugar-based drops in some cases.
  • May not dissolve or coat the throat quite as well as those with sugar.

The pros often outweigh the cons for many people who are concerned about their sugar or carbohydrate intake. But individual tolerance to sugar alcohols can vary, so some may find regular cough drops sit better in their stomach.

Are there any risks or side effects?

Sugar-free cough drops are considered very safe overall, but a couple risks or side effects include:

  • Gastrointestinal upset – Sugar alcohols like sorbitol and maltitol can cause gas, bloating or diarrhea in some people when consumed in excess.
  • Allergic reactions – Very rare, but possible from ingredients like flavorings or sweeteners. Discontinue use if any hypersensitivity occurs.
  • Dental erosion – Acidic ingredients like citric acid may erode tooth enamel with excessive use. Limit consumption to avoid damage.

For most people, sugar-free cough drops do not pose significant risks or side effects when used as directed. But those with sensitivities to sugar alcohols or additives should use them with caution.

What ingredients should you look for or avoid?

When selecting sugar-free cough drops, the most important feature is that they contain effective, soothing ingredients like:

  • Menthol – cough suppressant and throat soother
  • Eucalyptus oil – cough suppressant, reduces throat irritation
  • Glycerin, honey, agave – demulcent throat-coating agents
  • Phenol – mild anesthetic, anti-inflammatory

Beneficial sweeteners to look for include:

  • Xylitol – sugar alcohol with low glycemic impact
  • Stevia – natural, no-calorie sweetener
  • Monk fruit – low-glycemic natural sweetener
  • Erythritol – sugar alcohol with very little GI impact

Ingredients to avoid or minimize include:

  • Sorbitol – sugar alcohol that often causes GI effects
  • Aspartame – artificial sweetener some find unpleasant tasting
  • High fructose corn syrup – highly processed sugar with negative health impacts
  • Artificial colors and flavors – provide no therapeutic benefit

Reading ingredient labels carefully helps identify the best and worst sugar-free cough drops for your needs.

What are the best sugar-free cough drop brands?

Some of the top brands for sugar-free cough drops include:

Brand Notable Features
Luden’s – Uses xylitol and sucralose for sweetness
– Wide variety of pleasant flavors
– Lower glycemic impact
Halls – Uses aspartame sweetener
– Strong menthol formulas
– Numerous flavor options
Ricola – Sweetened with herb stevia blend
– Swiss herbal formula
– Mostly natural ingredients
Cepacol – Maximum strength numbing formula
– Uses sucrose alcohol base
– Clinically proven effectiveness
Chimes – Sweetened with xylitol/erythritol
– Organic ginger and honey options
– Innovative fruit flavors

These tend to be the most recommended and best-rated sugar-free cough drop options, covering a range of sweeteners, flavors and active ingredients.


Sugar-free cough drops provide an appealing alternative for people looking to avoid sugar and manage carbohydrate intake. Clinical evidence and user experiences suggest they can be just as effective as sugar-based cough drops when formulated properly. Opting for products sweetened with xylitol, stevia, or erythritol and containing menthol, eucalyptus, and other active ingredients provides symptom relief without unnecessary sugar consumption.

When shopping for sugar-free cough drops, carefully read ingredient labels and aim for natural sweeteners over artificial ones. Products containing therapeutic cough suppressants and demulcents, with minimal use of sugar alcohols like sorbitol, offer the best experience and effectiveness for most people. With more options available today, finding sugar-free cough relief that works well for individual needs and preferences is very achievable.

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