5.9 Expectorants

Open Resources for Nursing (Open RN)

Guaifenesin is an example of an expectorant.

Mechanism of Action

Expectorants reduce the viscosity of tenacious secretions by irritating the gastric vagal receptors that stimulate respiratory tract fluid, thus increasing the volume but decreasing the viscosity of respiratory tract secretions.

Indication for Use

Expectorants are used for a productive cough and for loosening mucus from the respiratory tract.

Nursing Considerations Across the Lifespan

The medication is safe for all ages. Guaifenesin is only recommended for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding when benefit outweighs the risk.

Adverse/Side Effects

Guaifenesin may cause a skin rash, headache, nausea, and vomiting.[1]

Patient Teaching & Education

Patients should take care to avoid irritants that stimulate their cough.  Additionally, the medication can cause drowsiness. Patients should avoid taking them with other CNS depressants or alcohol.[2]

Now let’s take a closer look at the medication grid for guaifenesin in Table 5.9.[3],[4],[5]

Table 5.9 Guaifenesin Medication Grid

Administration Considerations
Therapeutic Effects
Adverse/Side Effects
Expectorant guaifenesin No eating or drinking for 30 minutes after syrup

Encourage patient to cough and deep breath

Stay hydrated (2-3 liters/day)

Helps loosen sputum (mucus) and thin bronchial secretions to make coughs more productive Increased drowsiness in large doses

Gastrointestinal: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

  1. Frandsen, G. & Pennington, S. (2018). Abrams’ clinical drug: Rationales for nursing practice (11th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.
  2. uCentral from Unbound Medicine. https://www.unboundmedicine.com/ucentral
  3. This work is a derivative of Pharmacology Notes: Nursing Implications for Clinical Practice by Gloria Velarde licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
  4. Frandsen, G. & Pennington, S. (2018). Abrams’ clinical drug: Rationales for nursing practice (11th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.
  5. This work is a derivative of Daily Med by U.S. National Library of Medicine in the public domain.


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