"Mom, my throat hurts!"
"Dad, I can't breathe through my nose."
Cold season is just around the corner. Even if you've stocked up on soft tissues and chicken soup, you may be wondering whether there's any way to ease your child's symptoms if he or she catches that inevitable cold. Even though many people take the herbal remedy echinacea to alleviate or prevent cold symptoms, it's not clear whether the remedy works. Researchers from Virginia, South Carolina, and Austria investigated the effectiveness of echinacea in treating and preventing the common cold.
Four hundred thirty-seven healthy young adults volunteered to participate in the study. For 1 week, volunteers took one of three types of echinacea or an inactive placebo. Throughout the study, the participants had no idea whether they were taking echinacea or the placebo. Then researchers exposed 399 volunteers to a type of cold virus called rhinovirus. The volunteers stayed in separate hotel rooms for the rest of the study, and every morning and evening they reported whether they had developed cold symptoms, such as headaches, sneezing, sore throat, cough, fatigue, or chills. About 3 weeks later, the volunteers provided blood samples so that researchers could test the samples for antibodies to the rhinovirus.
None of the three types of echinacea affected how many people developed a cold, and taking echinacea didn't reduce the severity of cold symptoms, either.
What This Means to You: This well-designed study was conducted in young adults, but the results indicate that echinacea probably doesn't help prevent or reduce the symptoms of colds in people of any age. Instead of relying on echinacea, practice some proven cold-prevention tactics by making sure your child washes his or her hands often and well, especially during cold season. Set a good example for your child by lathering up before eating and cooking, after using the bathroom, after cleaning, after touching pets, after blowing one's nose or changing a diaper, or after being outside. To practice hand hygiene on the go, carry some waterless alcohol-based hand gel in your purse or car for those times when getting to a sink isn't possible.
Source: Ronald B. Turner, MD; Rudolf Bauer, PhD; Karin Woelkart; Thomas C. Hulsey, DSc; J. David Gangemi, PhD; New England Journal of Medicine, July 28, 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2005