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Why cold syrups do more harm than good

When a child catches a cold, many parents rush to get over the counter drugs, but a new report suggests saline nasals may be of more help

Be careful what you give your child when they develop a cold as many of the over-the-counter “cures” may not work.

According  to a BMJ review trails on- over-the-counter treatments, many of the cough and cold medicines in pharmacies and supermarkets don’t actually work. BMJ, formerly British Medical Journal, is  an international peer reviewed medical journal. 

This is not the first time over-the -counter drugs for the treatment of coughs and colds have received a damning review. A 2008 United States Food and Drug Authority (FDA) report recommended against over-the-counter sale of cough and cold medicines to children under the age two years.

The FDA had established that these medicines only treated symptoms of coughs and colds, but not the underlying condition, and as such had no proven effectiveness in infants and children that age. Most alarming were the many reports of harm, and even death, to children who used these products.

In 2009 two hospitals in Kenya, Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital and the Aga Khan University Hospital —  withdrew all cough syrups from their pharmacies for children aged below 12 years. This was after several reports, the most significant being one by the US Centre for Disease Control showed that cough medicines were responsible for 1,500 child emergencies in 2004 and 2005.

Dr Rahul Chodhari, consultant paediatrician and spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says parents should try using saline nasal washes, also called nasal irrigation.

They can be bought over the counter in the form of drops or sprays. The saltwater solution helps to clear the mucus from the nose and reduces the feeling of congestion.

“There are no side effects, it can be used many times a day and it’s well proven to reduce swelling around the nose,” Dr Chodhari says.

Apart from that, paracetamol in the form of Calpol, is useful for treating a fever— but it doesn’t help relieve a blocked nose.

Dr Chodhari says cough syrups are not recommended because they stop children coughing up mucus and getting rid of it. And antibiotics only work against bacterial infections and so they do nothing to combat colds. Vapour rubs and steam inhalation are not advised either, he says.  – BBC

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