By Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD
The cold and flu season is in full swing, and hacking, persistent, and annoying coughs are at their peak. If you are suffering from these symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a cough medication, such as benzonatate (Tessalon Perles). Before heading to a pharmacy near you to pick up your medication, here some facts you should know about benzonatate.
Benzonatate is a nonopioid (nonnarcotic) antitussive (cough suppressant) that is used to relieve cough if you have a cold or the flu, or if you have a chronic cough that does not respond to opioid cough suppressants. It is not used for chronic cough related to smoking, asthma, or emphysema, or when your cough produces large amounts of phlegm or mucus.
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Benzonatate is related to a type of drug called ester local anesthetics. It works locally by numbing the stretch receptors in your lungs, throat, and airways. When you breathe, you stimulate these stretch receptors, which causes you to cough. By numbing the stretch receptors, benzonatate inhibits their action and reduces your cough reflex. It begins to work within 15 to 20 minutes of taking the medication and generally lasts for 3 to 8 hours.
If your healthcare provider prescribes benzonatate, you should follow the instructions on your medicine label. Prescribers may dose this medication differently for different people.
Typically, patients take 100 mg to 200 mg of benzonatate up to three times per day, or every 8 hours. The maximum dose of benzonatate is 600 mg per day. If you take benzonatate capsules, you should swallow them whole. The capsules should not be opened, chewed, broken, dissolved, cut, or crushed. The liquid inside benzonatate capsules can temporarily numb your mouth and throat, suppress your gag reflex, and place you at risk of choking. If you accidentally chew or break a capsule in your mouth, do not eat or drink until the numbing effects have worn off.
Benzonatate is indicated for adults and children 10 years and older. It is vital to keep benzonatate capsules in childproof containers and away from children. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that benzonatate can cause death in children under 10 years of age who accidentally take the medication. In fact, children younger than 2 years of age have overdosed with as few as one or two capsules.
If your child accidentally takes this medication, call the poison control center (1-800-222-1222) and immediately get emergency care.
You should not use benzonatate if:
- You are allergic to ester local anesthetics, such as benzocaine, procaine, or tetracaine. Lidocaine is not an ester anesthetic.
- You are allergic to para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA).
- You have difficulty swallowing.
If you are pregnant, you should talk with your obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) before taking any medication.
Benzonatate is pregnancy category C, meaning that it should be used if the potential benefits of the medication outweigh the potential risks. A conversation with your ob-gyn will help you decide if benzonatate is safe for you and your baby.
According to the manufacturer, it is not known if benzonatate passes to breast milk. Given the lack of information, you may prefer to use an alternative cough medication if you are nursing.
All medications have side effects, but not everyone experiences them the same way. If you are taking benzonatate, you should be aware of the following potential side effects:
- Allergic reactions
- Mental confusion
- Visual hallucinations
- Nausea (upset stomach)
- Itching or rash
- Nasal congestion
- Numbing of the chest
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Eye irritation
If any of these side effects are severe or bothersome, let your healthcare provider know right away.
The cost of benzonatate varies depending on where you live, where you shop, and your insurance coverage. The average retail price for thirty 100 mg benzonatate capsules is about $20. If your insurance does not cover cough medications, you can use a free Rx savings card to get the lowest prescription price.
Prescription drug cards, or prescription savings cards, help you obtain the lowest prescription price for your medication. Sometimes, you may find that your insurance plan does not cover your medication or that the price with insurance is higher than the cost with a prescription savings card. Using prescription savings cards may save you up to 80% or more off the retail price. Be sure to compare prescription prices before filling your prescription. You can use ScriptSave WellRx discount card for the best discount at a pharmacy near you.
Rosanna Sutherby is a freelance medical writer who has been a practicing pharmacist in her community for close to 20 years. She obtained her Doctor of Pharmacy from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. She utilizes her clinical training in the pharmacy, where she helps patients manage disease states such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and many others. Dr. Sutherby reviews and recommends drug regimens based on patients’ concurrent conditions and potential drug interactions.