Cough drops, sometimes called throat lozenges, help to soothe your throat and curb the reflex that makes you cough. But how many cough drops is too many?

The most common medication in a cough drop is menthol. This is an organic compound made from peppermint, eucalyptus, and other mint oils.

Menthol helps cool your airway passages and soothe your throat. It may be paired with benzocaine, a local anesthetic.

Other cough drop brands don’t contain any medication. They use pectin and honey to coat and calm your throat.

It’s possible to overdose on cough drops containing menthol, but it’s incredibly difficult. Most people with menthol poisoning get it from ingesting pure menthol. Over-the-counter cough drops don’t contain pure menthol. The menthol is usually diluted.

To put it in perspective, a typical cough drop contains between 5 and 10 mg of menthol. There’s no accepted standard for a menthol overdose, but research suggests anywhere between 50 mg/kg and 1,000 mg/kg could cause a lethal overdose. This suggested range is based on the weight of the individual, so the amount of menthol it takes to cause an overdose in one person is different from what it would take in another. For example, if an individual weighed 175 pounds (79.5 kg), anywhere from 3,975mg to 79,500mg could cause a menthol overdose. This would mean ingesting 397 to 7,950 drops containing 10 mg of menthol each.

But it would take rapid ingestion, which would likely first cause other health risks, such as choking and nausea.

Some people love the sweet taste and calming effects of cough drops and may want to take them even when they don’t have a cough. But eating more than the recommended amount of cough drops — or anything for that matter — can result in a few unwanted symptoms.

How many cough drops is too many?

There’s no standard limit to how many cough lozenges can be consumed. This is largely due to the amount of active ingredient variation between brands.

If you’re worried about overdosing, follow the dosage on the label or avoid menthol lozenges completely.

If you take other medications or have other health conditions, speak with a healthcare professional before taking cough drops or any new medications.

You’ll probably experience some indigestion or a stomach ache before more serious symptoms of overdosing on cough drops occur.

If you manage to eat a very large amount of cough drops, you might experience the following symptoms:

There has been one report of an 86-year-old man who experienced serious symptoms after eating two entire bags of menthol cough drops every day for 20 years. He experienced:

Luckily, his symptoms disappeared after he stopped eating menthol cough drops, and he fully recovered after 6 months. This is a very unique case that’s not likely representative of the average person ingesting cough drops.

The safety of menthol cough drops during pregnancy isn’t known. You should talk with a healthcare professional before taking menthol cough drops while you’re pregnant.

Sugar-related symptoms

Keep in mind that cough drops also contain a fair amount of sugar. Eating an excessive amount of cough drops on a regular basis may also lead to weight gain over time.

People with diabetes should use extra caution when eating cough drops, as they can cause your blood sugar to rise.

Sugar-free varieties of cough drops are available, but eating too many of them can have a laxative effect. This is especially true for cough drops that contain a sugar substitute known as sorbitol.

Eating large amounts of sorbitol can lead to:

Though very unlikely to occur from cough drops, knowing the symptoms of an overdose that can indicate a medical emergency is still very important. The following symptoms can indicate a medical emergency:

An allergic reaction to one or more of the ingredients found in cough drops is also possible. Call 911 or local emergency services if you notice any of the following symptoms of an allergic reaction:

You should call 911, local emergency services, or contact the national toll-free Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222) if you think you or someone you know has overdosed on cough drops or another medication.

Once in the emergency room, a doctor or other healthcare professional will monitor the person’s vital signs, such as their pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.

Depending on the person’s symptoms and what medication they overdosed on, they may receive:

  • activated charcoal, which acts in their digestive tract to absorb the substance
  • breathing support (ventilator)
  • intravenous (IV) fluids
  • laxatives
  • drugs to induce vomiting
  • medications that reverse the effects
  • gastric lavage, where their stomach is emptied through a tube inserted through their mouth and into their stomach

Only one person dying from menthol poisoning has ever been reported in the medical literature. In this case, the man overdosed by inhalation of menthol while he was cleaning a peppermint factory. There are no known cases of people dying from overdosing on menthol from cough drops.

Overall, the outlook for someone who overdoses on cough drops will depend on how much of the medication they swallowed and how quickly the person receives medical treatment. In general, the faster they receive medical treatment for an overdose, the better their outlook.

While it’s possible to develop negative symptoms from consuming too many cough drops, you aren’t likely to ingest enough to cause any serious harm. Still, you should always read the label and try not to exceed the recommended dose.

If you’re worried about overdosing, look for cough drops that don’t contain menthol. Talk with a pharmacist or healthcare professional about what cough drops are best for you.

Gargling with salt water is another way to soothe your throat.

You should keep cough drops out of the reach of children, as children may think they’re candy. Cough drops also present a choking hazard to young children.

If you’re taking cough drops for a sore throat or cough and your symptoms don’t improve within 7 days or get worse, see a healthcare professional.

Keep in mind that you can call the Poison Help Line even if you just have questions about poison prevention. It doesn’t have to be an emergency.