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If a person is not breathing, or if they are unresponsive, seek help straight away. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Dihydrocodeine is an opioid-based cough medicine that you can buy over-the-counter from a pharmacy.
  • Dihydrocodeine is recommended for temporary relief of persistent dry cough.
  • Dihydrocodeine is recommended for short-term use only and should not be used by children under 6 years of age.
  • Always take dihydrocodeine exactly as directed by your pharmacist.
  • A cough is a symptom of COVID-19 infection – if you have a cough and are feeling unwell, use the healthdirect symptom checker tool for specific advice.

What is dihydrocodeine?

Dihydrocodeine is an opioid-based medicine available over-the-counter from a pharmacy. It is known as a 'weak' opioid, but it can still cause side effects.

LOOKING FOR A MEDICINE? — See this list of medicines that contain dihydrocodeine to find out more about a specific medication.

What is dihydrocodeine used for?

Dihydrocodeine is used for the relief of persistent dry cough. Unlike some other opioid medicines, dihydrocodeine is not recommended for pain relief.

Cough can be a symptom of many different health conditions, ranging from mild to serious.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How does dihydrocodeine work?

Dihydrocodeine reduces coughing by controlling the cough reflex. Dihydrocodeine works directly on an area of the brain that controls coughing —it is sometimes called ‘the cough centre' of the brain.

Dihydrocodeine is available as an oral liquid.

Dihydrocodeine is recommended for short-term use only. It should not be used by children under 6 years of age.

What are the possible side effects of taking dihydrocodeine?

All medicines, including dihydrocodeine, can have side effects.

The most common side effects of dihydrocodeine are:

People who are older and those with existing lung problems, have a higher chance of experiencing side effects.

Dihydrocodeine affects everyone differently. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor if you have side effects or feel unwell while taking dihydrocodeine.

Always take medicines exactly as your doctor prescribed, or as directed by your pharmacist.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What are the risks associated with dihydrocodeine?

It is important that you take the correct dose of dihydrocodeine. Use a medicine measure (cup or syringe) to be sure the dose is correct. These are available from your pharmacist.

Dihydrocodeine may make it hard for you to drive, care for young children, or operate heavy machinery.

If you have lung, liver or kidney problems, your doctor may decide that dihydrocodeine is not a good option for you.

There are other situations that may mean that dihydrocodeine is not a good option for you. One example is if you drink alcohol excessively. Your doctor is the best person to guide you on whether dihydrocodeine is the right medicine for you, and how long you should take it for.

If a person is not breathing, or if they are unresponsive, seek help straight away. Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Are there any alternatives to dihydrocodeine?

Different cough relief medicines may be recommended in different situations. Your doctor might try to find the cause of your cough, and treat the cause. This may be a better approach than simply reducing the symptom of cough.

If you have taken dihydrocodeine and you have concerns or are experiencing side effects, speak with your doctor or pharmacist about other ways you can treat your cough.

Learn more about managing cough.

When should I see my doctor?

If your cough is not well-controlled on dihydrocodeine or you have any unexpected side effects, see your doctor.

Dihydrocodeine is recommended for short-term use only, so if your cough doesn't go away, see your doctor for advice.

It's important to remember that cough is a symptom of COVID-19 infection. If you have a cough, and are feeling unwell, stay home and seek medical advice via telehealth consultation.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How do I dispose of medicines safely?

It is important you dispose of unwanted opioid medicines safely. Unused medicines can be returned to any pharmacy. Don't keep unused dihydrocodeine 'just in case', as this can lead to dangerous or inappropriate use.

Keep dihydrocodeine out of reach of children and pets. Never throw medicines into a garbage bin or flush them down the toilet. This is dangerous to others and harmful to the environment.

Resources and support

Asking about your treatment or medicine is important to help you understand your options. Here's a guide to questions you should ask your pharmacist or doctor before taking any medicine.

You can also see this list of medicines that contain dihydrocodeine and read the consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet for the brand prescribed, or you can:

  • Call 1300 MEDICINE on 1300 633 424 if you have any questions about your medicines.
  • Discuss your pain on the Pain Link telephone helpline (1300 340 357) which is staffed by volunteers with personal experience of chronic pain.
  • Go to Painaustralia to find pain services and programs in your area.
  • Learn more about prescription opioids on the Choosing Wisely website.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2023

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