Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Active Ingredients in Expensive Cough Syrup Not Always Worth It

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Active Ingredients in Expensive Cough Syrup Not Always Worth It

Article excerpt

Two active ingredients found in many over-the-counter cough medications are no better than nonmedicated syrup for nighttime cough and sleep quality in children with upper respiratory tract infections, a study from the Penn State College of Medicine suggests.

"Consumers spend billions of dollars each year on over-the-counter medications for cough," said Ian Paul, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, Penn State Children's Hospital, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "Our study showed that the two ingredients used in most over-the-counter medications were no better than a placebo, nonmedicated syrup, in providing nighttime relief for children with cough and sleep difficulty as a result of upper respiratory infection."

From June 2002 to May 2003, volunteers ages two to 18 years of age were recruited from patients with upper respiratory infections at two practices affiliated with Penn State Hershey Medical Center. (The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board under federal regulations at the center.)

After consent was obtained from the parents, they were asked questions about their children's conditions, such as cough severity, cough frequency, and the effect of the cough on sleep. A seven-point symptom severity scale was used. Symptoms, as reported from the parents, had to reach a certain threshold for children to be admitted to the study. Each child was then randomly assigned to receive dextromethorphan (DM), diphenhydramine (an over-the-counter antihistamine), or placebo. Neither the physician nor parents knew which of the three the children would take.

The parents were instructed to give the medication to the child 30 minutes before bedtime. The next day, a second survey was administered to parents asking the same questions as the day before.

Of the 100 children with upper respiratory infections included in the study, 33 patients received DM, 33 received diphenhydramine, and 34 received placebo. Patients were ill for an average of 4.21 days before participation in the study. The symptom scores from the night before treatment were compared with those after treatment.

"All three groups, including the nonmedicated syrup group, showed dramatic improvement, with scores for cough frequency, impact on child and parent sleep, bothersome nature of cough, and severity of cough scoring lower," Dr. …

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