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Terpin Hydrate Helped World War I Veteran

What do you do for a cough? Do you find that dextromethorphan (the DM in OTC cough meds) tastes terrible? Have you ever found that terpin hydrate helped?
Terpin Hydrate Helped World War I Veteran
A recalcitrant child stares at a spoon of liquid medicine

Terpin hydrate, with or without codeine, used to be a highly popular cough remedy. It was available without a prescription from the 1880s until the 1990s. That’s when the FDA decided there wasn’t enough data to support its use. But readers of our newspaper column and visitors to this web site insist that terpin hydrate helped calm their coughs. Here is a compelling story about a World War I veteran and his chronic cough.

Terpin Hydrate Helped Calm Coughs:

Q. My father was gassed in World War I and had chronic bronchitis as a result. The VA prescribed terpin hydrate with codeine. It really helped him and us kids when we had a cough. One probably can’t get it with codeine in today’s environment.

A. Terpin hydrate is no longer available, as the FDA decided there wasn’t enough evidence of effectiveness. Codeine used to be available without a prescription in OTC cough medicine, but most states now restrict it to prescription status.

Other Readers Insist That Terpin Hydrate Helped:

Here is what Margo in Kansas shared about her experience with terpin hydrate:

“In the 1950s it was possible to buy Elixir of Terpen Hydrate with codeine without a prescription. I could take one swallow of that OTC cough remedy and my cough was gone for the rest of the day. It worked well for a serious dry hacking cough. That was true even for a cough caused by a severe cold or the flu. It worked well as an expectorant.

“My son can still obtain Terpin Hydrate without a prescription overseas. That is not true here in the U.S. I can tell you from personal experience that terpin hydrate is much more effective than most other OTC cough remedies!”

Tom in Mohawk Valley agrees that terpin hydrate helped calm a cough:

“Terpin Hydrate with Codeine was the most effective cough relief medicine I’ve ever taken. I suspect that codeine helped the most to relieve coughing. I used to have it compounded at my local pharmacy with a prescription from my doctor.

“If I request a prescription now because of a really bad cough brought on by a cold I am ignored. I suspect that has more to do with narcotic control than anything else. Everyone is afraid of narcotics, so doctors won’t even prescribe a low-dose of terpin hydrate with codeine any more. Cough until you vomit seems to be the current treatment modality.”

How Can You Get Terpin Hydrate With or Without Codeine?

You cannot find terpin hydrate on pharmacy shelves. Most young pharmacists will look at you with a blank expression if you ask for this cough remedy. But there are ways to access this old-timey remedy. Here is a link that will provide the answers.

What About Other Cough Remedies?

We have to agree with readers who say that terpin hydrate tasted yucky. What about cough remedies that taste good and also help calm a cough? We have been collecting home remedies for coughs for decades. That’s in part because we are not fond of FDA approved OTC cough medicine. We are definitely not fans of dextromethorphan. It’s the DM in most cough remedies on drugstore shelves.

Here are a few of our favorite other options: Thyme cough syrup is, in our opinion, one of the best natural cough remedies you can find. We are thrilled that Tieraona Low Dog, MD, shared her recipe with us. You will find it in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. You will also learn about applying Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet.

Here’s another one we bet you have never heard about:

This comes from Dave:

Honey & Onion Cough Syrup

“Combine a half-cup of honey and a half-cup of water. Add in one whole chopped onion and one chopped clove of garlic. Add a dash of sage, thyme or oregano and allow to steep overnight at room temperature. Strain and use the liquid as a cough syrup. Store in your refrigerator.

“If you can’t wait overnight for your syrup to steep, simmer the mixture for five to 10 minutes until the onions soften.”

Ron in Orange, California, offers this approach:

“When I was a kid, my German mother would chop up an onion and boil it in wine and some honey. She would then strain it and boil it down some more. When that concoction cooled, it was our cough syrup.

“At the first sign of a cold or sore throat, she herself would make an onion/tomato sandwich on sourdough bread and eat it.”

What’s your favorite cough remedy? Please share it in the comment section. And if you like home remedies that work, check out Quick & Handy Home Remedies. It would make a fabulous holiday gift for your grandmother, mom or uncle Charlie.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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