MONDAY, Jan. 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The cold season is in
full swing, with everyone swearing by their own methods for
avoiding infection or treating themselves should they get sick.
Now, a new review finds that some methods seem to work better
than others, namely hand washing and zinc supplements for
prevention of a cold, and decongestants and pain relievers for
For preventing colds, frequent hand washing came out on top,
said study leader Dr. Michael Allan, director of evidence-based
medicine in family medicine at the University of Alberta, in
Besides hand washing, daily zinc supplements appeared to help
kids avoid colds, some research found, and Allan said it would
probably work for adults. The evidence was not strong, however.
"It wouldn't be something I'd recommend on a regular basis," he said. Zinc use can lead to nausea and has an unpleasant taste, he noted.
For the study, Allan's team reviewed hundreds of published
studies looking at the best ways to prevent and treat colds. The
review is published in the Jan. 27 issue of
CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Some evidence also suggests that probiotics -- the "good
bacteria" found in some yogurts and elsewhere -- helped prevent
colds. However, the studies included various combinations of
probiotics, so making comparisons about which is best was
difficult, Allan said.
For the prevention of colds, the evidence wasn't clear for
gargling with water (and no benefit was found from gargling with an
iodine solution), ginseng, exercise, garlic, homeopathy, echinacea
or vitamins C or D.
For the treatment of colds, antihistamines by themselves didn't
help. But they did help somewhat when used in combination with
decongestants, pain relievers or both -- but only in children over
age 5 and adults. For fever in kids, he said, parents can use
acetaminophen or ibuprofen, "but ibuprofen is superior to
acetaminophen; it's a more potent fever reducer."
Nasal sprays with ipratropium (Atrovent) -- prescribed for
allergies and other conditions -- may help runny noses but don't
seem to help congestion, Allan found.
For the cough associated with cold, children over the age of 1
who get a single dose of honey at bedtime had reduced cough, Allan
said. Honey should not be given to children younger than 1 due to
risk of botulism poisoning.
Many other old favorite treatments fell short, Allan found.
Vapor rub was linked with burning of skin, eyes and nose. No clear
benefit was found for nasal irrigation, humidified air, echinacea,
Chinese medicinal herbs, ginseng or vitamin C. Intranasal zinc
spray should not be used, Allan said. It has no clear benefit and
could lead to loss of smell.
Even without evidence of benefit, Allan said many of his
patients swear by the remedies that have helped them in the past.
As long as they present no harms, he tells them to go ahead.
"People have individual reactions to medicines that are not predictable," he said. "There is also, of course, the placebo effect -- you think it's going to work [and you feel better]."
The finding that hand washing is the best preventive rings true,
said Dr. Aaron Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases
Society of America and executive vice president of Mercy Medical
Center, in Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Most treatments for the common cold, Glatt agreed, have minimal
benefits. Whatever cold remedy is chosen, he added a caveat: "If
you have an underlying disease, see a doctor to be sure there are
For example, anyone with heart or lung disease should be aware a
cold may impact them more strongly than others. "Those types of
patients should check in with their doctor," Glatt said.
American Academy of Pediatricsfor more on colds
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