No Help for Colds in the Medicine Cabinet

When a child has a cold, our instinct is to treat it. But it’s important to remember that medication will not prevent the illness from spreading – and many medicines will not actually cure an illness, experts say.

Over-the-counter treatments might temporarily reduce the amount of infectious nasal secretions the family is exposed to, but a dosage large enough to really do the job would probably be toxic, says infectious disease expert John Bradley, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Antibiotics won’t help stem the spread of illness either, nor are they effective against viruses, Bradley says. “Antibiotics are not active against viruses, and 90 to 95 percent of all infections kids get are viruses.”

Furthermore, using an antibiotic when not indicated promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which means a more serious bacterial illness will be tougher to fight later on.
So what about milder treatments, such as vitamins or herbs? Many parents swear by these alternatives, but most medical experts insist they aren’t a reliable way to prevent or treat illness.

“There is very little evidence, truthfully, that those things help,” says Ralph Feigin, M.D., physician in chief at Texas Children’s Hospital. A 2003 study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, backs him up. Researchers found that echinacea – one of the most commonly used herbs in the United States – was not effective in treating children’s colds, despite its touted ability to boost the immune system.

Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate the symptoms of illness, such as coughs, congestion and muscle aches. But when it comes to keeping sick kids comfortable, the best treatment remains completely natural: plenty of rest, plenty of fluids, and a call to the doctor if needed.

Learn More About Kids’ Colds and Flu
Find more information on children’s colds, including the difference between a cold and the flu and how to ease young children’s stuffy noses.

– Christina Elston