Throat lozenges: relief or rip-off?
Is it just a lolly? How to tell confectionery from medicinal lozenges.
With little or no active ingredients or therapeutic benefits, ‘confectionery’ items are classed as a food, not a medicine and they’re not required to be listed on the Australian Therapeutic Goods Register (ARTG). Medicines which are accepted as therapeutic goods for sale in Australia are required to show an “Aust L” or “Aust R” number on the packet. It can be anywhere on the packet but it’s usually on the front of the packaging – the type font can be quite small, so keep your eyes peeled.
Bosisto’s Eucalyptus Sugar-free Drops are a good example of an Aust L listed medicinal lozenge (Aust L products are able to be freely sold over the counter). You can see the AUST L number listed under the "50g Net" on the bottom right of the packaging.
What’s in lozenges & do the ingredients really work?
- Local anasthetics, NSAID painkillers: Found in some of the ‘heavy duty’ throat lozenges, there’s no doubt these work to numb the throat, however they may not be suitable (or desirable) for everyone, including elderly and children, those on certain medications and those who find the bitter taste unacceptable.
- Antibacterials: Help fight bacteria, however sore throats are mostly caused by viruses not bacteria so in lozenges, they are largely useless. (Lemsip even acknowledges this on the packet of their Lemsip MAX Sore Throat Anasesthetic Antibacterial Lozenges: “The presence of the antibacterial agent in this product has not been shown to have beneficial effect on the severity or duration of a sore throat.”)
- Antitussives: Cough suppressants designed to ease a dry cough. A Cochrane review of trials testing antitussives found they appeared no more effective than placebo for treating coughs in most cases – and a much higher concentration was used in the trials than is present in most cough lozenges.
What about natural ingredients?
- Menthol: Derived from mint oils. It’s the component of peppermint oil thought to be responsible for its therapeutic benefits. Menthol provides a noticeable ‘cooling’ and soothing sensation due to its ability to chemically trigger cold-sensitive receptors.
- Eucalyptus: Naturally sourced from eucalypt leaves, this oil has centuries of use as a nasal decongestant to help temporarily relieve cold symptoms and to freshen breath.
- Honey: Honey coats the throat, helping reduce persistent coughing – some clinical studies have found it as effective as cough suppressant medications.
- Lemon: adds a delicious tang and a long-lasting natural flavour which balances and complements the other ingredients.