A cold in a child: why you do not need to give medicine

Ian Paul, a professor of pediatrics at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, says it’s embarrassing for parents to look at their children when they cough, sneeze, and stay awake at night, so they give them good old cold medicine. And most often this medicine is “tested” by the parents themselves, they themselves took these medicines, and they are sure that it will help the child overcome the disease.

The researchers looked at data on whether various over-the-counter cough, runny and cold medicines are effective, and whether they might cause harm.

“Parents are always worried that something bad is going on and they need to do something,” said Dr. Mieke van Driel, who is a professor of general practice and head of the primary health care clinical team at the University of Queensland in Australia.

She well understands the urgency that parents feel in finding something to alleviate the suffering of their children. But, unfortunately, there is very little evidence that the drugs actually work. And research confirms this.

Dr van Driel said parents should be aware that the risks for children from using these drugs are high. The Food and Drug Administration initially opposed any such over-the-counter drugs for children under 6 years of age. After manufacturers voluntarily recalled products sold for infants and changed labels that advised against giving drugs to young children, researchers found a drop in the number of children arriving in emergency rooms after problems with these drugs. The problems were hallucinations, arrhythmias and a depressive level of consciousness.

When it comes to a runny nose or cough that is associated with a cold, according to Pediatrics and Community Health Doctor Shonna Yin, “these symptoms are self-limiting.” Parents can help their children not by giving them medication, but by offering plenty of fluids and honey to older children. Other measures may include ibuprofen for fever and saline nasal drops.

“Our 2007 study showed for the first time that honey was more effective than dextromethorphan,” said Dr. Paul.

Dextromethorphan is an antitussive that is found in drugs such as Paracetamol DM and Fervex. The bottom line is that there is no evidence that these drugs are effective in treating any of the symptoms of a cold.

Since then, other studies have shown that honey relieves coughs and related sleep disturbances. But organic agave nectar, on the contrary, has only a placebo effect.

Studies have not shown that cough suppressants help children cough less or that antihistamines and decongestants help them sleep better. Medications that can help a child with a runny nose from seasonal allergies won’t help the same child when it’s a cold. The underlying mechanisms are different.

Dr. Paul says that even for older children and adolescents, the evidence for effectiveness is not strong for most cold medicines, especially when taken in too high doses.

Dr. Yin is working on a FDA-funded project to improve labeling and dosage instructions for children’s cough and cold medicines. Parents are still confused about the drug’s supposed age ranges, active ingredients, and dosages. Many of these medications contain several different medications, including cough suppressants, antihistamines, and pain relievers.

“I reassure parents that this is a cold, a cold is a passable disease, we have capable immune systems that will take care of it. And it will take about a week,” says Dr. van Driel.

These doctors are always telling parents what precautions to take, talking about symptoms that indicate that something more serious than a common cold is going on. Any respiratory difficulty in a child should be taken seriously, so a child who is breathing faster or harder than usual should be checked. You should also go to the doctor if you have a fever and any signs of the flu, such as chills and body aches.

Children with colds who do not experience these symptoms, on the contrary, need to eat and drink, they may be concentrated and susceptible to distractions, such as play.

Until now, we do not have good therapeutic agents for colds, and treating a child with something that can be freely bought at a pharmacy is too risky.

“If you give people information and tell them what to expect, they usually agree that they don’t need medication,” concludes Dr. van Driel.

Therefore, if your child only coughs and sneezes, you do not need to give him medication. Provide him with sufficient fluids, honey and a good diet. If you have more symptoms than cough and runny nose, see your doctor.

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