Which is the sugar free cough syrup?

Coughing is one of the most common symptoms that lead people to see their doctor. Coughs can be caused by a variety of conditions, ranging from mild irritants like dust or smoke, to more serious illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia or COPD. While coughs often go away on their own within a few weeks, the constant urge to cough can be disruptive and prevent proper rest. This is why many people turn to over-the-counter cough medicines for relief. However, not all cough syrups are created equal. People with certain health conditions like diabetes need to be mindful of the sugar content in cough syrups. This article provides a detailed overview of the various sugar-free cough syrup options available, so diabetic patients can find relief safely.

What is a sugar free cough syrup?

Sugar free cough syrups do not contain any added sugars like sucrose, glucose or fructose. They use sugar substitutes like sorbitol, sucralose, aspartame or saccharin to provide sweetness instead. The key benefit of using sugar free cough syrups is that they will not spike blood glucose levels. This makes them a safer option for people with diabetes who need temporary relief from annoying coughs but want to keep their blood sugar under control. Most sugar free cough syrups will be explicitly labelled as such, so diabetic consumers can easily identify them when shopping. However, it is still important to read the ingredients list to confirm no sugar has been added.

Why do diabetics need sugar free cough syrup?

Diabetes is a chronic condition where the body cannot properly regulate blood glucose levels on its own. People with diabetes need to closely monitor their carb and sugar intake to keep blood sugars within a healthy range. Consuming lots of added sugars can cause blood glucose to spike sharply, leading to unpleasant symptoms like:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased thirst and need to urinate frequently
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches

Over time, large spikes in blood sugar can also result in severe complications like nerve damage, kidney disorders, vision loss and heart disease. This is why diabetics are advised to avoid sources of added sugars like regular soft drinks, fruit juices, candy, desserts and also regular cough syrups. The small dose of sugars in a single serving of cough medicine may seem trivial, but it can still impact blood glucose enough to cause discomfort. Using sugar free cough syrup eliminates this problem.

What sweeteners are used in sugar free cough syrups?

Common sweeteners used in sugar free cough medicines include:

Sorbitol – Sorbitol is about 60% as sweet as sugar but contains fewer calories. It does not spike blood glucose rapidly. However, some people report gastrointestinal side effects like bloating and diarrhea when consuming large amounts of sorbitol.

Sucralose – Sucralose is an artificial sweetener made from sugar but is about 600 times sweeter. It adds sweetness without calories or blood glucose impact. Studies have found it does not cause toxicity issues even in large amounts.

Aspartame – Aspartame is another common artificial sweetener used in sugar free products. It is around 200 times sweeter than sugar and gets metabolized without affecting blood glucose. However, it may cause headaches and dizziness in some people.

Saccharin – Saccharin is one of the oldest artificial sweeteners available. It is around 300 times sweeter than sugar but has a slight bitter aftertaste. It passes through the body without getting metabolized.

Xylitol – Xylitol is a sugar alcohol derived from birch trees. It has a similar sweetness level as regular sugar but with only two-thirds the calories. It does not spike blood sugar or insulin. Too much xylitol can have a laxative effect.

Are sugar free cough syrups as effective?

Most sugar free cough syrups are just as effective as regular syrups for suppressing coughs. The only difference is they use non-caloric sweeteners instead of sugar. The active ingredients that actually help suppress the cough reflex remain the same. These include:

  • Dextromethorphan (DXM) – This cough suppressant works on the brain to raise the threshold for coughing.
  • Guaifenesin – Helps thin mucus secretions to reduce coughing.
  • Acetaminophen/NSAIDs – Relieve associated sore throat and chest pain.
  • Antihistamines like diphenhydramine – Reduce postnasal drip and throat irritation that triggers coughs.
  • Flavorings like honey or menthol – Soothe the throat.

As long as the product contains therapeutic levels of these active ingredients, diabetic consumers can expect similar cough relief from sugar free versions as they would get from regular syrups. Of course, it is still important to follow the recommended dosage instructions carefully.

5 Popular sugar free cough syrup brands

Here are 5 well-known cough syrup brands that offer sugar free options suitable for diabetics:

Brand Product Name Active Ingredients
Robitussin Robitussin Cough + Chest Congestion DM Max Sugar Free Guaifenesin + Dextromethorphan
Vicks Vicks Sugar Free DayQuil Cough Dextromethorphan + Phenylephrine
Delsym Delsym Sugar Free Cough + Chest Congestion Guaifenesin + Dextromethorphan
Mucinex Mucinex Fast-Max Cold, Flu & Sore Throat Liquid Acetaminophen + Guaifenesin + Dextromethorphan
Triaminic Triaminic Sugar Free Syrup Cherry Flavor Dextromethorphan + Phenylephrine + Guaifenesin

Are there any downsides to sugar free cough syrup?

While sugar free cough syrups are a smart choice for diabetics, there are a couple of potential downsides to be aware of:

  • Aftertaste – Some artificial sweeteners have a bitter, metallic aftertaste that people find unpleasant.
  • GI side effects – Sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol can cause bloating, gas or diarrhea when consumed excessively.
  • Higher cost – Sugar free syrups tend to cost 20-40% more than regular syrups.
  • Limited flavors – The flavor range is smaller compared to regular syrups.

However, many diabetics find these drawbacks a small price to pay for the benefits of keeping their blood sugar controlled. Drinking lots of water and sticking to small doses can help minimize any potential GI issues.

Are there any natural sugar free cough syrup options?

People who wish to avoid artificial sweeteners do have some natural options for sugar free relief:


Raw honey offers soothing relief and can suppress coughs. Make sure to pick a brand that is unprocessed and unpasteurized to get the highest benefits. Add a teaspoon to a cup of warm lemon water. Avoid giving honey to children under 1 year old.

Herbal syrups

Look for herbal cough syrups containing ingredients like slippery elm, marshmallow root, licorice root, thyme, wild cherry bark and peppermint. They provide a natural way to coat and soothe the throat without any added sugars.

Warm lemon water

Mixing lemon juice from half a lemon into a cup of hot water can help thin mucus and reduce coughing. Adding a teaspoon of raw honey boosts the benefits.

Throat lozenges

Sucking on medicated throat lozenges provides temporary relief for sore, irritated throats. Look for options with menthol, eucalyptus and other soothing ingredients.


Controlling blood sugar levels should be the top priority for people with diabetes, even when sick. Opting for sugar free cough syrup allows temporary relief from annoying coughs without causing glucose spikes. There are many effective OTC options from reputable brands that use alternate sweeteners. Natural remedies like honey, lemon and herbal syrups offer additional sugar free choices. By being a mindful and informed consumer, diabetic patients can safely manage cough symptoms while keeping their long term health on track.

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