Cough Syrup Doesn't Work on Children

A study published in the July issue of the American Academy of Pediatrics's official journal, "Pediatrics", suggests that over-the-counter cough suppressants may be no more useful for calming a cough in children than simple sugar syrup. The research, performed at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, involved questioning the parents of 100 children with upper respiratory infections. These parents were questioned to assess the frequency, severity, and bothersome nature of the nocturnal cough.

The parents of children with upper respiratory infections participating in this study were interviewed on 2 consecutive days. They were questioned initially on the day of presentation when no medication had been given the previous evening to access how their child was doing. Then, on the next day, they were questioned again after either medication or a placebo, (sugar syrup) was given to the child before bedtime. Sleep quality for both the child and the parent were then assessed for both nights to see if there was any difference between the children who got medicine and the ones who only got the placebo . During this study, neither the physician nor the parents knew who was taking the cough medication or the placebo.

Two active ingredients in most cough medicines are dextromethorphan, to clear phlegm, and diphenhydramine, an antihistamine to reduce swelling in the respiratory tract. The study suggested, that in children, neither drug made much difference. Dr. Ian Paul, a professor of pediatrics at Penn State Children's Hospital and the study's lead author said, "Cough symptoms went away within a few days, regardless of whether the child was taking medicine or a placebo." He continued, "Nighttime coughing affects the child and the parents. Nobody gets any sleep. Even so, parents really need to think twice before giving these medications that have doubtful positive effects on their children's symptoms and may have a potential for side effects."

Dr Paul concluded that doctors should consider these findings, as well as potential side-effects, and costs of the drugs before recommending cough syrups.