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Treating The Common Cold

For the last week I have had a cold. I usually get one each winter. I have two kids in school and they bring home a lot of viruses. I also work in a hospital, which tends (for some reason) to have lots of sick people. Although this year I think I caught my cold while traveling.  I’m almost over it now, but it’s certainly a miserable interlude to my normal routine.

One thing we can say for certain about the common cold — it’s common. It is therefore no surprise that there are lots of cold remedies, folk remedies, pharmaceuticals, and “alternative” treatments. Finding a “cure for the common cold” has also become a journalistic cliche — reporters will jump on any chance to claim that some new research may one day lead to a cure for the common cold. Just about any research into viruses, no matter how basic or preliminary, seems to get tagged with this headline. (It’s right up there with every fossil being a “missing link.”)

But despite the commonality of the cold, the overall success of modern medicine, and the many attempts to treat or prevent the cold — there are very few treatments that are actually of any benefit. The only certain treatment is tincture of time. Most colds will get better on their own in about a week. This also creates the impression that any treatment works — no matter what you do, your symptoms are likely to improve. It is also very common to get a mild cold that lasts just a day or so. Many people my feel a cold “coming on” but then it never manifests. This is likely because there was already some partial immunity, so the infection was wiped out quickly by the immune system. But this can also create the impression that whatever treatment was taken at the onset of symptoms worked really well, and even prevented the cold altogether.

What Works

There is a short list of treatments that do seem to have some benefit. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can reduce many of the symptoms of a cold – sore throat, inflamed mucosa, aches, and fever. Acetaminophen may help with the pain and fever, but it is not anti-inflammatory and so will not work as well. NSAIDs basically take the edge off, and may make it easier to sleep. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Top Five Pediatric Stories of 2008

By Dr. Stacy Beller Stryer, M.D.

Reflecting on the past year’s successes and failures as a parent is an important and worthwhile exercise to do each January. In previous January blogs, I have published my own list of resolutions for the New Year to help you get your own creative juices flowing. This year, however, I have decided to talk about the top five news stories related to pediatrics in 2008.

The top news story in 2008 is the election of Barack Obama as our next President. President-elect Obama wants affordable, comprehensive and portable health care for everybody . His goal is for all uninsured children to be able to sign up for healthcare plans. He wants to expand Medicaid and state health insurance programs, and to develop a government-funded health insurance plan that will compete with other companies. President-elect Obama also wants comprehensive health education taught in schools.

A second important pediatric-related news story is the recall of cough and cold medicines, including decongestants, expectorants and antitussives, for children, particularly those ages 2 years and less. The reason for the recall is because studies have found that the risks of dangerous side-effects far outweigh the benefits. A study which came out last year from the Centers from Disease Control found that over 1500 children under age 2 visited the emergency room for serious side effects due to taking cold medicines in 2004 and 2005, and that 3 children died. In addition, insufficient studies have evaluated the efficacy and side effects in children. Actually, these medicines were previously developed based on studies done with adults.

Another important finding concerns the use of cigarettes. If you smoke and light up that cigarette only when you are outside your house or when your children aren’t home, you may still be harming them (OK – this was reported in the January issue of Pediatrics but I heard about it December 31st!). According to a recent study published in Pediatrics , this “third-hand smoke” causes toxins to remain everywhere, such as on clothes, hair, couch cushions, and carpets, for extended periods of time. The toxins include heavy metals, carcinogens, and radioactive materials that children may ingest, especially if they are crawling on the carpets. If this isn’t enough of a reason to quit smoking, I don’t know what is!

Unlike some other fatal illnesses, researchers have been able to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) significantly over the years when they discovered that placing an infant to sleep on his back significantly reduced the risk. Another study published last October in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that placing a fan in an infant’s room during sleep decreased the risk of SIDS by 72%.

The last news story which made significant changes in pediatric practice this past year concerns the identification and treatment of elevated cholesterol levels in toddlers and children. In July, the journal Pediatrics published revised guidelines for pediatricians, including initiation of lipid screening in children, beginning at age 2 years, in those who have a family history of high cholesterol or early heart disease, or in those who are overweight, have diabetes, or smoke. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also begun to recommend a decrease in the fat content of milk in overweight children beginning at age 1 year. Finally, they now recommend medication as early as age 10 years in certain children with elevated lipid levels despite exercise and diet change.

There are many other important findings from 2008, but I thought that these were among the most important. Now stop reading and get back to your New Year’s Resolutions for 2009!

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