Rethinking Remedies for Colds and Coughs - Well - Tara Parker-Pope - Health - New York Times Blog
FYI, from the NY Times. I don't agree with the recommendation to use antihistamines.
Rethinking Remedies for Colds and Coughs - Well - Tara Parker-Pope - Health - New York Times BlogOCTOBER 1, 2007, 6:49 AMRethinking Remedies for Colds and Coughs
A panel of safety experts at the Food and Drug Administration has proposed banning over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for kids under age 6. There’s growing concern about the health risks and little evidence that the remedies work in young children.
But guess what? Cough medicines usually don’t work for grown-ups, either. The American College of Chest Physicians last year issued new guidelines for treating coughs, and concluded that many popular medications simply don’t quiet coughs caused by the common cold. In particular, the group concluded that the drug guaifenesin — an expectorant found in such popular brands as Robitussin and Mucinex — doesn’t calm coughs due to colds. Neither do two suppressants, codeine and dextromethorphan, though they may help coughs due to causes other than colds.
Drug makers have long defended their products by noting that an F.D.A. review a decade ago concluded the ingredients were safe and effective. They say people wouldn’t buy cough medicines if they didn’t work. In cough studies, however, as many as 40 percent of patients taking placebos report improvement, the chest doctors noted.
An industry trade group last week urged the F.D.A. to consider warning labels saying that cough medicines should not be given to children younger than 2. But according to the college’s guidelines, over-the-counter cough and cold remedies shouldn’t be used by kids under age 14.
Dr. Barney Softness, a New York pediatrician, says he has long warned parents that cough and cold medicines are likely to do more harm than good. Side effects can include palpitations, headaches, dizziness, anxiousness and hyperactivity. “Just like too much coffee,’’ says Dr. Softness. “It’s just more pathetic in infants and toddlers.’’ An even bigger concern is that some over-the-counter cold drugs can make asthma symptoms worse, says Dr. Softness.
So what do you do to quiet a cough? For adults, the American College of Chest Physicians recommends old-line antihistamines that aren’t even marketed as cough drugs, including diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl; dexbrompheniramine, an active ingredient in Drixoral; and chlorpheniramine, the active ingredient in Chlor-Trimeton. The downside is that the drugs can make you drowsy. They can also worsen prostate problems in men. Pain relievers such as naproxen and ibuprofen also may help patients with coughs caused by the common cold. But they can also cause stomach upset or increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.
For kids, there are fewer options, but cough is “ultimately not as harmful as people think,’’ said Dr. Softness. “Warm humid air, honey, and yes, chicken soup work as well as anything.’’