A study published in the American Academy
of Pediatrics’ official journal, "Pediatrics", suggests that over-the-counter cough suppressants may be no
more useful for calming a cough in children than a placebo syrup. The research, performed at Pennsylvania
State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania,
involved questioning the parents of 100 children with upper respiratory infections to assess the frequency, severity, and
bothersome nature of the night-time 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, (plain 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
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.” Medications
often have doubtful positive effects on their children's symptoms and always have unintended 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.