During winter, many of us are searching for a relief to a cough and runny nose.
As a doctor I see many people in life and online looking for treatment to the said complaints – an almighty medicine is expected to help with the annoying conditions, the said medicine should be effective, but preferably natural and with no side effects. Usually a short-term runny nose and cough are caused by viruses which is why there is no use in taking antibiotics (they mostly affect bacteria), even if they have “always” worked before. But to not waste the doctor’s appointment, people request at least a prescription for some cough medicine.
Unfortunately however it is usually not wise to spend money, time or prescription on cough medicine. The efficiency of these is (based on adequate studies) comparable to that of a placebo but there are significantly more side effects which is why cough medicine is not recommended for children under 12. Depending on the specific medicine the side effects can be dizziness, exhaust, faintness, constipation, arrhythmia, etc. The “natural” Echinacea products, C or D vitamins or zinc products are also useless.
Thus, there is no point in endangering yourself or your kids and spending money and time on potentially dangerous substances despite how hard the sales people try to prove the contrary.
But what to do when cough and runny nose are making life impossible? It is important to understand that both cough and plugged nose are body’s defence mechanisms and these symptoms are meant to fight the virus. If the cough reflex is subdued too strongly then the excess discharge is not eliminated from the respiratory tract and this can in turn make the situation worse, especially with children whose respiratory tract is very narrow and the excess discharge makes breathing hard.
Based on literature it is recommended to consume enough liquid, for more than 1-year olds also honey with warm tea or by itself; the so-called nasal pumps may also help to remove the discharge; there are also special cans for rinsing the nose. In case of fever (if the temperature is more than 38o C) a Paracetamol pill can also help (without the expensive tea or other solution that is often advertised).
It is also important to try and stop the virus from spreading – when coughing/sneezing, place a handkerchief or a sleeve in front of your mouth, and not your hand; it is recommended to wash your hands more often than usual and alcohol based hand sanitizers are also effective.
Cough/rhinorrhea caused by viruses lasts usually 7-10 days (a few days longer for smokers) – if your symptoms last longer, are more serious and the immune system has weakened then we recommend consulting our nurses and doctors on what to do next.
Ingmar Lindström | General Practitioner
The statements above are based on the experiences of the signee and the following literature:
Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications for acute cough in children and adults in community settings. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD001831. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001831.pub5.
Barrett B, Brown R, Rakel D, et al. Echinacea for treating the common cold: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2010; 153:769.
Eccles R. Importance of placebo effect in cough clinical trials. Lung 2010; 188 Suppl 1:S53. Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, et al. Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2007; 161:1140.