Coughs and Colds

There are few things in life more frustrating than dealing with the common cold and all its annoying symptoms.  And the younger the child, the more severe the symptoms, and the longer they last!

There are literally hundreds of viruses that can cause colds and coughs, and in order to never get them again one would have to be infected with each one virus individually, and in some cases multiple times with the same one in order to be completely immune. Probably the only ones in the world who would meet those criteria would be someone who gets exposed every day, namely pediatricians!

There is no effective TREATMENT for the common cold.  None.  Nada.  Doesn’t exist. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either ill informed or lying.  There are multiple medications for the treatment of the SYMPTOMS of the common cold.  Almost all work poorly or not at all.  In fact, there are only five products available that have ever been proven to help, and I’ll cover that later.  So what are you to do?  First of all, prevention is the key, and the single most effective preventative measure is hand washing.  Soap and water, hand sanitizer, hand wipes, whatever works.  I personally wash with aerosol hand foam two to three times between every patient.  I get a cold about once a year.  Works pretty well (and my immune system is pretty good, too!). Next, avoid direct contact with those who are ill.  This is not always easy, but if you are in a room with a person with a cold or cough, simply keep your distance, and avoid direct skin contact, ie shaking hands or kissing.  Remember that the portals of entry of viruses into our bodies are the eyes, nose and mouth.  And this occurs when one touches his hands to these areas and inoculates himself, or with direct contact in the case of a peck on the cheek or mouth.

There are only five products which have been shown to help with the symptoms of colds and cough.  They all have been evaluated in clinical trials, and the results published in quality, peer reviewed journals.  They are:

  1. Buckwheat Honey.  One or two teaspoons at bedtime is more effective than placebo or Robitussin cough syrup.  In fact, placebo scored the same as the cough syrup!  DO NOT GIVE TO KIDS UNDER 1 YEAR OF AGE because of the risk of Botulism!
  2. Vicks Vapo Rub.  Simply spread a bit on the upper chest/lower neck at bedtime.  This helps with coughing at night.
  3. Zinc.  When taken by mouth within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms significantly reduces cold symptoms.  The exact dose is unknown, however I would recommend following package directions in terms of how much and how long.  I would not use it under 1 year of age. It is available in liquid, lozenges and tablets.  The most common side effects are bad taste and nausea.
  4. Afrin (Oxymetazoline) nasal spray.  Very effective at relieving congestion, but highly addictive.  I recommend its use at age 6 and above, using it only at night to help with sleep, and for no more than 3-4 nights in a row.
  5. Salt Water nasal drops/spray.  Simply spray into each nostril, and suction back.  This simply relieves the nasal congestion and helps with sleep. Can be used at any age.

To my knowledge, there are no other products that are effective at relieving cold and coughs.  This includes OTC products with decongestants, cough suppressants, antihistamines, homeopathic medications, eichinacea, herbal remedies, etc.  To date, all studies looking at these products show no benefit over a placebo. Whether or not vaporizers help is unknown.

Copyright 2012, Albert G. Karam