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Reaction Mechanisms

Periodic Graphics: The Chemistry Of Cold Medicines

Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning gives us a dose of the molecules behind decongestants, cough syrups, and throat lozenges

by Andy Brunning
November 16, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 45


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A collaboration between C&EN and Andy Brunning, chemistry educator and author of the popular graphics blog Compound Interest. To see more of Brunning’s work, go to Check out all of C&EN’s Periodic Graphics here.



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Robert Smith (November 18, 2015 3:04 PM)
You missed the best sore throat lozenge, Cepastat, that uses good old phenol as its active ingredient. The cherry flavor is the best of the two offered. It is difficult to find them as not many pharmacies in this area stock them. Give them a try.
Joseph Okogun (November 19, 2015 1:11 AM)
Thanks Andy for this information. Next time I have a cold, I shall be aware of the chemicals that I am swallowing. I wonder if dichlorobenzyl alcohol is environmental friendly.
chems (November 20, 2015 1:07 PM)
it's probably not, but for pharmaceutical agents there is usually very little data available about how they behave in the environment once cleared from the body. The assumption is probably that the total amount released into the environment is too little to have an impact.
Dr Jose M Prieto (October 18, 2016 1:23 PM)
Another wonderful infographic from Andy, I am a great admirer of your work. I teach at UCL Pharmacy and always recommend my students to have a look at your website to add eye-candy to our chemistry curriculum.
Just a comment on this . The section painkillers had to read actually antipyretics / pain killers.
In my opinion I see paracetamol more as an antipyretic whilst ibuprofen is both antipyretic / pain killer.
Keep up the good job!
Andy Brunning (October 22, 2016 7:12 PM)
Thanks! I'm flattered that you enjoy the graphics and recommend them to your students. Thanks for the point about antipyretics – you're right that it would be a good idea to mention that effect too.

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