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Decongestants found harmful to young children
November 12, 2018, 11:12 am

A new study by researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia has found that decongestants used to treat symptoms of the common cold are largely ineffective and should mostly be avoided, especially for children.

Researchers say the minor relief offered by decongestants is outweighed by the risks and side effects associated with these drugs. Decongestants and combination drugs that include decongestants can cause drowsiness, upset stomach, headaches, insomnia, and — if given to children under age 2 — serious complications, such as convulsions and rapid heart rate. The study advices parents against giving decongestants to children under age 6 and urges caution when administering the drugs to children under age 12.

The common cold is a viral infection, usually involving rhinovirus. Typical symptoms, such as runny nose, congestion, and fever, are actually the body’s immune response to the infection and not caused by the virus itself. This inflammatory response causes membranes of the nose and blood vessels in the nose to swell and produce discharge that surrounds the virus with mucus, which can then be expelled. Fever is the body’s way of raising temperatures to a level where the virus has more difficulty reproducing.

Many doctors suggest that while taking pain medication to reduce cold-related headaches or a high fever is acceptable, it is generally better to let the body fight the virus. There is very little evidence that any of the wide variety of medications or folk remedies, such as steam inhalation, eucalyptus oil vapor, or increased fluid intake, are effective in treating the symptoms of cold. At best, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil) and aspirin, only provide some pain relief.

Children suffering discomfort from congestion could be safely given saline nasal irrigations or drops, or saline sprays. Older people could try using a neti pot to loosen mucus or a bulb syringe to extract mucus. For chest congestion, children can use expectorants that help cough up excess mucus.

Many parents are usually lulled into a false sense of security about the safety of over-the-counter drugs. But with the symptoms of cold being localized there is no reason why a systemic drug like a decongestant should be even prescribed. Doctors and parents should simply tell children that symptoms of a common cold, while annoying, will pass naturally in a few days.

As the old saying goes, “If you don’t do anything to treat a cold, it will go away in seven days. If you do try to treat it, it will take a week.”

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