Echinacea purpurea

Though it’s popular, most studies say echinacea extract doesn’t work for colds in children. In adults, studies show mixed results.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Okay, I know I’m going to get into trouble with some of you here; I just feel it in my bones.

The same American Family Physician article that named study-proven common cold treatments also listed treatments proven not to work. If you’ve tried these and they work for you, be my guest. Except for one:

Over-the-counter cough medicines are a no-no for children ages four and under. These medicines are in the top-twenty causes of death. The wrong dosage can be fatal in this group.

Even in older kids, no antihistamine or decongestant has been found to work on a cough caused by a cold. For example, Benadryl, DayQuil Cough, and Pediacare, along with a lot of other medicines, contain either dextromethorphan or diphenhydramine. Those two ingredients have been shown ineffective in kids. (Remember, we’re talking colds here, not allergies.)

Another cold treatment that doesn’t work for children, at least according to the majority of studies, is the popular herb echinacea. Proponents use it to rev up the immune system to fight colds.

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Books adAdults: No Codeine or Nasal Irrigation? Say It Ain’t So.

In adults, the most surprising finding to me is codeine is no more effective than placebo for a cough.

Nasal irrigation has also been found not to work (for colds, not allergies). Remember, it does seem to help in children.

Some treatments, like vitamin C and echinacea, have had mixed results in adults, but even the positive studies have shown only a small benefit.

The Simplest Natural Remedies

The bottom line is, a healthy lifestyle, avoiding people with colds, and washing your hands frequently still can’t be beat.

What’s been your experience with common cold treatments?


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Photo of echinacea purpurea by Günter Langer. Copyright A.Vogel/Bioforce AG, Teufen AR/Roggwil TG. (Link not meant as an endorsement.)