PUBLISHED: 5:04 PM on Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Out with the medicines when you've got a cold
However hot the medicinal pursuit, common colds tend to run their usual course.

Some in the medical profession think the recent removal of over-the-counter medicines for children from infants to 2 years old was not a big loss.

The best thing for treating a cold is really just to help with the symptoms, according to Dr. Lara Johnson, a pediatrician at University Medical Center and the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.

"It's important to note that even though the cold medicines have been voluntarily removed from the market by the manufacturers, they really didn't work," she said.

Even for children up to age 6, the medicines may not work.

"Studies have shown that they don't work very well in young children," Johnson said. "So, this is part of the reason, I think, that the companies chose to recall them. They aren't very effective."

Johnson said the withdrawal of the medicines from the market may have contributed to safety.

"There have been an increasing number of reports over the past year or two suggesting some adverse events - at least in babies under a year of age who either had too much medicine or had a bad side effect from the medicine," she said.

"We know there are theoretical risks of taking the medicines. Any medicine can have side effects. So, giving the baby a medicine that we know isn't going to work and could potentially have side effects isn't necessarily a good idea."

Treating symptoms

The typical cold runs its course in seven to 10 days, and Johnson doesn't rule out taking measures against the symptoms in young children.

"Using some saline nose drops, as well as a bulb suction to remove some of the secretions may be helpful," she said. "Occasionally a humidifier may be helpful."

In case of fever, she thinks that using some fever medication, such as Tylenol or Motrin, is a reasonable thing to do, but advises keeping the doctor's phone number at hand.

"In very young infants, if we have fevers, then we suggest that parents call their doctor and discuss the fever with them."

The saline nose drops and humidifier are standard treatments used by Lori Robinson. She and her husband, Christopher, have four daughters younger than 7.

Natural cures

Foods and similar natural cures get a general non-effect rating from the pediatrician when they are directed at colds.

"There really aren't any foods that I am aware of that have been scientifically proven to be beneficial," Johnson said.

"A lot of people like to take more vitamin C or increase their orange juice consumption in cold season, and in older children who can drink orange juice that's probably fine to do. But there has been nothing that's been shown scientifically to help a cold go away any faster."

Antibiotics don't work on a cold, either.

"A cold is a viral infection," Johnson said. "And it is going to go away on its own, generally between seven to 10 days from the time that it first started, with the first three or four days being the worst with the most intense symptoms."

"If it lasts a lot longer than you would expect, or you are having worse symptoms than normal, it's always a good idea to see your doctor."

Depending on doctors

Robinson makes it a point to keep in touch with her daughters' pediatrician.

"We can always call during their business hours, but even after business hours they have an on-call person who is either a nurse or a doctor that I'm able to speak with."

When a medicine is recommended, the doctor can suggest the right dosage.

"I am always asking for the correct dosage amount because it may be one that says ?for children 6 and over,' then it says on the packaging, ?For under the age of 6, ask your doctor.'

"So, I think it is important for parents to make sure that they do follow up and actually ask the doctor, because when you overdose that's when you get into problems."

Robinson also follows another strategy in keeping tabs on how much and which medicines to give: It is through periodic visits to the pediatrician. Those checkups are every three months for the first year, then every six months in the second year.

This cold season, though, probably won't involve much medicine for little ones.

"As a parent, you are just resorting back to how you would treat an infant, or using those medical techniques of just waiting it out and trying to use things like the humidifier or saline drops - things to help sinuses work properly again," Robinson said.

And along with the basics, she will add a lot of tender loving care.