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Cough Syrup Doesn't Help Kids -- or Parents

Study finds OTC products don't help either sleep

TUESDAY, July 6, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- If your child is coughing from a cold, giving him cough medicine to help him feel better -- and to let you get some sleep -- won't work, a new study finds.

In the study, 100 children took common over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines or a dummy medicine. The researchers found that the OTC cough medications did not reduce coughing or improve sleep quality any more than the placebo did.

In addition, because parents' sleep is also affected by their children's illness, the researchers looked at how well the parents of the study kids were sleeping. They found no difference in the parents' quality of sleep whether their child took the OTC or dummy drug.

The medications tested were cough suppressants and expectorants (specifically, Benlyn and Diphen AF), according to the report in the July issue of Pediatrics.

"Regardless of the medication used, there was no reduction in cough frequency, severity, how much the cough bothered the child, how well the child slept, or how well the parent slept," said lead researcher Dr. Ian Paul, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.

"These medications may not have a role in the treatment of childhood cough due to an upper respiratory infection," Paul added. These findings are in line with evidence-based reviews and a policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, he said.

Colds improve with time, Paul said. "These medications do not hasten that improvement. They don't suppress the cough, or help the child sleep," he added.

Paul noted that often parents give their children cough medicine so that they themselves can sleep. "But it didn't help parent have a better night's sleep, since it didn't help the kids," he said.

Dr. David Schonfeld, an associate professor of pediatrics at Yale University, said he wasn't surprised at all.

"Most upper respiratory infections are not helped by most over-the-counter cough medications," he added. "I generally don't recommend them for colds."

For infants with a dry cough, Schonfeld recommends a humidifier with tap water. "For older children with runny nose, sometimes an OTC decongestant will be helpful," he said.

Schonfeld said he tells parents that there is no evidence cough medicines work for the average cold.

"If the cough is from asthma, it requires a different type of treatment, and asthma attacks are often triggered by colds," Schonfeld said. "So if your child wakes up with a persistent cough in the middle of the night, it might be an asthma attack."

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics can tell you about over-the-counter medicines for children.

SOURCES: Ian Paul, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey; David Schonfeld, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.; July 2004 Pediatrics
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