Do You Really Need Gluten-Free Cough Drops?

Yes, Even Your Cough Drops Need To Be Gluten-Free

Yes, you need gluten-free cough drops. Getty Images/Michael Krasowitz

If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, anything you put in your mouth (and eventually in your stomach) needs to be gluten-free ... so yes, you need to find cough drops that don't contain gluten.

Fortunately, there are a few options — even mainstream brands — available. You can find most of these in your local drugstore chain or order them online. Those cough drops that are listed below as "gluten-free" should meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gluten-free standard, which requires them to contain less than 20 parts per million.

This list is valid only for cough drops marketed in the U.S.; the same brands sold in other countries may be manufactured differently and may contain different ingredients, so buyer beware. However, at least one gluten-free cough drop brand — Jakeman's — is available both in the U.S. and in the European Union.

Unfortunately, there aren't any cough drops that are certified gluten-free, which means they meet more stringent standards (generally, products that are certified gluten-free contain fewer than 10 parts per million of gluten, and the manufacturers take extra care in sourcing raw ingredients).

The GF Status of Popular Brands

Here's the list of popular cough drops, along with their gluten-free status:

  • HALLS. This well-known brand is a subsidiary of Mondelez International, a huge multinational snack company that makes such products as Oreos cookies and Green & Black chocolate bars. HALLS offers a wide variety of cough drops in different flavors and styles, including regular, sugar-free, "natural" and non-mentholated. Unfortunately, while HALLS products are not made with gluten-containing ingredients, a customer service representative tells me that they can't be considered gluten-free: "We do not guarantee that our products are gluten-free because we sometimes purchase flavoring, color or spice ingredients from suppliers who do not list every possible source of gluten beyond what is required by law." (For more on what's required, take a look at this: Do food labeling laws require manufacturers to disclose gluten ingredients?)
  • Fisherman's Friend. In the U.S., these lozenges come in Traditional Menthol Eucalyptus (known as "Original Extra Strong") and Sugar-Free Mint. Additional flavors are available in other countries. According to the company: "The product is suitable for coeliacs and vegans and is Kosher and Halal approved." Fisherman's Friend is also considered allergen-free.
  • Jakemans. Based in Boston, England, Jakemans has been in the throat lozenge business for more than 100 years and makes cough drops in cherry, honey and lemon, anise and chili and lime. All contain menthol as their active ingredient. According to the company, Jakemans products meet both European Union and U.S. gluten-free food label rules.
  • Luden's. Luden's Lozenges come a variety of flavors: Original Menthol, Wild Honey, Honey Lemon, Wild Cherry, Sugar-Free Wild Cherry, Wild Berry, Sugar-Free Black Cherry, Orange, Kiwi-Strawberry, Honey Licorice, Watermelon and Blue Raspberry. The only menthol-containing lozenges are the Original Menthol and Honey Licorice; the rest contain pectin (a natural, fruit-based thickening agent) as a throat soother. According to the company, the products are considered gluten-free, and Luden's does not market gluten-containing products.
  • Pine Brothers. Pine Brothers advertises "softish" cough drops and offers the oblong-shaped drops in four flavors: Natural Honey, Wild Cherry, Licorice and Lemon Citrus. All are labeled "gluten-free" (even the licorice drops, which contain the sometimes-problematic ingredient caramel color), although they may be out if you also have a nut allergy since they are manufactured in a plant that also processes peanuts and tree nuts.​
  • Ricola. This Swiss company makes a variety of medicated cough drops, in flavors such as Lemon Mint, Swiss Cherry, and Honey Herb. All contain menthol and a mixture of herbs. According to Ricola, its products contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. Ricola products also are lactose- and nut-free.​
  • Smith Bros. This is the brand I remember from my childhood — whenever I'd get a bad cold and cough, I used to pop Smith Bros. cherry cough drops like candy (as I recall, they taste pretty much like cherry candy). Smith Bros. makes a variety of different lozenges for a variety of purposes: cough drops, day/night drops, lozenges that contain vitamin C, tablets designed to relieve dry mouth, and "Restore Electrolyte Drops," intended to be used whenever you'd consider using an electrolyte drink (in the case of a fever, for example). A customer service representative tells me that all current Smith Bros. products are considered gluten-free.