Despite the plethora of pediatric decongestants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants on the shelves at pharmacies and grocery stores, some experts argue that these products have no place in treating young children’s’ symptoms. Not only is there little evidence that these products work, but some are known to have life-threatening side effects and even result in death in certain cases. The US Food and Drug Administration has stated
that no child under 2 years of age should ever be given a decongestant or antihistamine and parents should be extremely cautious about giving them to children under 4 years of age; manufacturers have complied by labeling their products unsuitable for children under 4 years.So, where does that leave a parent with a sniffling, coughing, feverish toddler?
Colds are quite prevalent among children under the age of six, with the average child contracting six to eight colds per year; almost 40% of pediatrician visits during the winter months, consisting of children one to five years of age, are due to cold and cough symptoms. A new study
suggests that a homeopathic syrup may be an effective way to rid a child of bothersome cold symptoms. Researchers at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine examined data on 261 children between the ages of 2 and 5 who were patients at a primary care pediatric practice affiliated with the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
Of the participants, 128 were assigned to take a commercially available homeopathic cold and cough syrup comprised of ingredients that include: allium cepa, hepar sulphuris, natrum muriaticum, phosphorous, pulsatilla, sulphur, and hydrastis. The other 133 participants were given a placebo syrup comprised of the identical liquid base that was in the homeopathic syrup, minus the homeopathic ingredients. Parents were given dosing instructions (5 ml of study medication every 4 to 6 hours up to 6 times a day for the first 3 days) and asked to complete both a dosage log—in which they would indicate changes in runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, and sneezing—and a symptom diary, in which they would note their child’s behavior, any additional symptoms, and indicate whether they were giving their child any additional treatments.
In all, 957 doses of the study medication were dispensed—460 doses of placebo and 497 doses of homeopathic syrup. After taking pains to control the administration of additional treatments such as ibuprofen and chest rubs, the researchers found that, among children who were in the homeopathic syrup group, there was a significant improvement in runny nose, cough, and sneezing during the first day of treatment, although no change was seen in nasal congestion. By the end of three days, there was no difference in symptoms between the two groups, although children who had taken the homeopathic syrup seemed to experience a worsening of cough symptoms during the 5- to 10-day follow-up period. The researchers suggested this might be a rebound effect that occurred once the medication was stopped.
Since children are often sick and parents are often desperate to alleviate their childrens' discomfort, the study’s authors were concerned about the very real possibility of over-the-counter medications leading to toxic overdoses, and as such, wanted to dispel the prevailing belief that any symptom relief exhibited after the use of homeopathic remedies is merely due to a placebo effect.
“Because the concentrations of active ingredients in homeopathic medications are extremely dilute, they are generally considered to be safe,” write the authors in the study’s introduction. They did not compare the homeopathic syrup with any other commercial medications because none are known to be safe and effective.
Although the researchers admit that these study results are preliminary and merit more comprehensive testing, they also suggest that healthcare providers consider recommending homeopathic remedies for reducing upper respiratory symptoms, at least during the early stages of a cold.
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