Following a scientific review of the safety of pholcodine, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), with advice from the independent Commission on Human Medicines, has recommended that all pholcodine-containing cough and cold medicines should be withdrawn as a precautionary measure.
Some studies have suggested that pholcodine might slightly increase the risk of having anaphylaxis to muscle relaxants (neuromuscular blocking agents or NMBAs for short) that are used during general anaesthesia in surgery.
If you are currently taking cough medicine, check the packaging, label or Patient Information Leaflet to see if pholcodine is a listed ingredient – if it is, and you have questions, talk to your pharmacist who can suggest a different medicine suitable for you.
A list of recalled pholcodine-containing medicines can be found here.
Anaphylaxis to NMBAs is very rare and there are no reliable tests that can be done to predict whether you are at higher risk of anaphylaxis to an anaesthetic if you have used pholcodine before. Anaesthetists are experts in managing anaphylaxis during anaesthesia. Even if you have used pholcodine-containing cough medicines before, the risk of anaphylaxis remains extremely small.
You can find out more about General anaesthetics and pholcodine in cough medicines factsheet.
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