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Safe Cures for Kids’ Common Colds

SPH, MED research cautions against pseudoephedrine use in children


Despite adverse side effects, pseudoephedrine use in U.S. children is high, according to a survey by researchers at BU's Slone Epidemiology Center. (Below) Louis Vernacchio, an SPH assistant professor of epidemiology and of pediatrics at MED. Photo courtesy of the Slone Epidemiology Center

For years, at the first sign of a child’s sniffle, a parent’s instinct was to reach for the bottle of cough syrup to help relieve nasal congestion, sore throat, and fever. But when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked overdoses of pseudoephedrine, a common decongestant, to the deaths of three infants in 2005, many drug manufacturers changed both their products and their marketing strategies. Pseudoephedrine was removed and replaced with phenylephrine, and pharmaceutical companies voluntarily ceased marketing all cold-and-cough medications as suitable for children under two.

The results of a new study by Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center show that the changes came just in time. Research conducted between 1999 and 2006 showed the drug’s common use among children in the United States, particularly among children younger than two. Now, BU researchers say, parents need to remember not to give drugs intended for adults to children in that age group, who have the highest risk for toxicity and for whom safe dosing recommendations are lacking.

“There is some concern that because so many decongestants are no longer marketed to infants and toddlers, parents will give adult drugs to their children, which could be even more dangerous,” says lead author Louis Vernacchio, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and of pediatrics at the School of Medicine.

Although pseudoephedrine has been linked to deaths and adverse side effects, including tremors, agitation, and vomiting, among small children, the absolute risks posed to children by the decongestant are difficult to determine, Vernacchio says, because the number of children exposed to it and typical patterns of use aren’t known.

Between 1999 and 2006, Vernacchio and his team of researchers analyzed data on pseudoephedrine use among 4,267 children younger than 18 who were enrolled in the Slone Survey, a national random-digit-dial telephone survey of medication use in the U.S. population. Their findings, published in the December issue of Pediatrics, determined that 4.9 percent of children took pseudoephedrine in a given week. The drug’s use was highest in children under two (8.1 percent); 16 children (7.5 percent of users) took more than one pseudoephedrine-containing product within the same week, including 6 children under two years old. And 52 subjects (25 percent of users) took pseudoephedrine for longer than one week, including 7 children younger than two years.

Most of the pseudoephedrine products used were multiple-ingredient liquids (58.9 percent) and multiple-ingredient tablets (24.7 percent).

“Our data suggest that well over half a million children who are younger than two have been exposed to pseudoephedrine weekly in the past several years,” Vernacchio says. “This is particularly concerning given the lack of evidence for efficacy of pseudoephedrine among this age group, the absence of consumer dosing recommendations for pseudoephedrine-containing products for children who are younger than two, and the fact that infants seem to be at the highest risk for toxicity from pseudoephedrine overdose.”

The good news is that pediatric pseudoephedrine use does appear to have declined since the institution of the Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005. In an attempt to reduce illicit methamphetamine production, this federal law requires that all pseudoephedrine-containing products be kept behind pharmacy counters and be sold to individuals in limited quantities. “This change suggests that the implementation of this act may be having the unintended benefit of reducing pseudoephedrine exposure among children and therefore potential pseudoephedrine-related toxicities,” Vernacchio says.

While parents may be tempted to give their sick children medications that contain pseudoephedrine, Vernacchio says most children’s colds don’t need to be treated with any type of drug. “The best cure for the common cold isn’t cough syrups or chewy tablets,” he says, “but warm showers and baths, humidifiers, and saline nose drops. Simple home remedy treatments are just as — if not more — effective as over-the-counter medications.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.


4 Comments on Safe Cures for Kids’ Common Colds

  • Anonymous on 12.10.2008 at 7:44 pm

    Thank you for the information in the last paragraph. I completely agree because it works. I have three children and have used natural methods of healing successfully for 15 years. I’d like to add lots of water, NO SUGAR, and lots of rest to the natural recipe of healing. Tylenol and cold remedies are not necessary. Let the body learn to heal itself and stop abusing it with chemicals.

  • Libros on 02.17.2009 at 7:04 am

    All of the natural cures for a cold listed below are most effective if used at the first sign that a cold is starting. But, they will all be of some help if you start later.

    A half teaspoon of Colloidal Silver for kids and a teaspoon for adults should be taken at the first sign of a cold. But, we had a full-blown cold and cough disappear by morning.


    At the first sign of a cold, put a few drops of 3% hydrogen peroxide into each ear, one ear at a time. Keep the solution in for 10 minutes or until the bubbling stops. Your temperature should start dropping within minutes, and your cold should be gone within 12 to 14 hours.

    NOTE: Do not put liquids into your ears if you have or ever have had a ruptured or perforated ear drum.


    When you first get the feeling that you may be starting a cold, begin taking zinc, extra Vitamin C with rose hips, and garlic (you can get odorless garlic). The combination will keep the cold from materializing. If you take these regularly, you may never get a cold. But, if you still feel a cold coming on, increase the dosage for these three items.


    Diffusing Oil of Oregano at the first sign of a cold will either keep it away entirely or at least dramatically decrease its severity and duration. To diffuse oregano essential oil, put some water into the diffuser, add five drops of the oil, and light a candle underneath. Once you see a mist rising from the diffuser, keep the mixture burning for at least 20 minutes, even if it means replacing the candle once.


    Sambucol is elderberry extract, and it gives remarkable results when taken for the cold. Taken early enough, it will stop the cold in its tracks. Taken after the cold has really set in, Sambucol can still shorten the length and severity of the cold. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “A more recent laboratory study of three different Sambucol formulations, tested on blood from 12 healthy donors, showed that they increased production of inflammatory cytokines, which are immune system mediators. This finding indicates that Sambucol might help activate a healthy immune system. You can also get Sambucol for Kids (when they can keep it in stock) or Sambucol Lozenges.

    A variation on Sambucol is Honey Elderberry Apitherapy, which also contains elderberry. Apitherapy also conains raw honey, echinacea root extract, Descargar Libros organic apple cider vinegar, and propolis extract. This combination may be even more powerful.

    One last thing – wash your hands before putting your fingers in your ears, eyes, nose or mouth. Most cold germs are not breathed in, they are put in our bodies through one of those openings. Babies and little kids also put toys in their mouths, so keep those clean if someone has a cold.

  • Lory Sanchez on 02.24.2010 at 5:34 pm

    cough cures

    Here is an exerpt of an article talking about honey as a natural treatment for coughs in children:
    Darker honeys have been proven to have a higher antioxidant qualities. Studies at Penn State College of Medicine have shown that buckwheat honey is more effective than typical over the counter cough medicines. In this double blind study parents found that children that took a teaspoon of buckwheat honey before bed coughed less and had a more restful nights sleep. Some side effects of increased energy in these same children were reported. Having a natural alternative to cough medicine is a relief to many parents especially since the FDA warned about the effects of dextromethorphan, cough medicine and does not recommend it for children under the age of 6.

  • Jennifer @ Oil Diffuser on 06.18.2015 at 11:29 pm

    I agree with you. When children get cough, fever or sore throat, we can think about the solution that many simple ways like drinking warm water regularly, or warm bath, sleep more or drinking juice to decrease disease. It helps children be stronger than they have to drink medicine. And essential oils are also help them so much. Thank you for your sharing.

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