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Echinacea for the Common Cold

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Are There Side Effects of Echinacea for the Common Cold?

Although the benefits of echinacea for the common cold are in doubt, the risks seem to be low. The most common side effect is upset stomach.

Some people have allergic reactions to echinacea. This can cause:

  • Rashes
  • Worsening asthma (if you have asthma)
  • Anaphylaxis (a life-threatening emergency that can cause difficulty breathing)

You might be at higher risk of having an allergic reaction to echinacea if you are allergic to other plants in the daisy family. This includes daisies, ragweed, chrysanthemums and marigolds.

Echinacea may also not be safe for people who use certain drugs. Examples are some drugs for heart problems (like Cordarone and Pacerone) and some anti-fungal medicines. The combination of echinacea and these drugs could cause liver damage.

Some experts recommend that you should not take echinacea for more than eight weeks at a time. Although there is no evidence that the herb would cause harm after this point, there is also no evidence about its long-term safety.

Keep in mind that herbal remedies like echinacea are not regulated in the U.S. the way medications are. This can mean, for instance, that a supplement you buy at the drugstore may not actually have what the label says it does.

Other Types of Alternative Treatment for the Common Cold

Many other herbs, plants, minerals, vitamins, and supplements are said to help symptoms of the common cold. These include:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Garlic
  • Honey
  • Lemon
  • Menthol
  • Vitamin C
  • Zinc

However, no studies have shown that these treatments actually have an effect against the common cold.

If you're interested in using echinacea for the common cold -- or another alternative treatment -- talk to your health care provider. Remember that herbal remedies may have risks, just as any drug does. They can cause side effects and could interact with other medications. Make sure that your health care provider knows about every complementary and alternative treatment that you use.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on June 20, 2012
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