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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Kids & Cold Drugs: Questions, Answers

Experts Answer Your Questions About Children's Cough and Cold Medicines

Aren't any of these types of drugs effective? continued...

The fact of the matter is, regardless of age, cough and cold preparations are ineffective. There is one study in adults, that the industry produces, showing that if you give cough and cold medicine to an adult you can expect about a 6% improvement. That is pretty doggone small. I interpret that and the rest of the medical literature to mean these products don't work in older children or adults, either.

In our petition we were interested in children under age 6 because there is where we saw the most problems, particularly in those under 2 years of age. The FDA panel chose not to take a position on children over 6, but in our petition we didn't ask them to. When they asked us, we said these medications are still not effective, but may be a little safer in older children.

But I gave these drugs to my children when they had colds and they worked. How can you say they don't?

Even though parents and some pediatricians believe these products work, science has proven that they don't. The studies show that these drugs don't work any better than inactive placebo. In fact, placebo worked better in one study. Treated children got better because colds get better over time.

A lot of parents may have had the impression these drugs were working. But if they gave them a sweet, syrupy liquid, they might have done just as well. So No. 1, it is a large placebo effect. No. 2, for our whole lives we have been told these drugs work. And No. 3, we all got better from every cold we ever had -- so we are apt to believe the drugs helped. But if people take an inactive placebo, they would get just as well, just as fast.

Are all of these types of drugs dangerous?

Any medicine we give to any child has the potential for side effects. The issue here is the risk/benefit relationship. So if we have medicines not proven effective, any side effect is too great.

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