Alternative treatments used for the common cold

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Alternative treatments used for the common cold include numerous home remedies and alternative medicines. Scientific research regarding the efficacy of each treatment is generally non-existent or inconclusive.[1][2] Current best evidence indicates prevention, including hand washing,and neatness[3][4] and management of symptoms.[5]

Zinc lozenges[edit]

There is marketing for the idea that zinc acetate lozenges shorten the duration of colds and some studies concur.,[6] while others do not. There is no concern of zinc toxicity in the dosage that was used in the zinc acetate trials with 80–100 mg/day of elemental zinc.[7]

Vitamin C[edit]

Vitamin C was identified in the early part of the previous century and there was much interest in its possible effects on various infections including the common cold.[8][9][10] A few controlled trials on the effect of vitamin C on the common cold were carried out already in the 1940s,[10] but the topic became particularly popular after 1970, when Linus Pauling, a double Nobel laureate, wrote a best-selling book Vitamin C and the Common Cold.[8][11] Pauling's book led to great interest in the topic among lay people, but also among academic circles. After Pauling's book, a number of controlled trials were carried out. However, the interest disappeared after the middle of 1970s apparently due to the publication of two reviews and one primary study, which all concluded that vitamin C does not influence the common cold. However, the three papers were later shown to be erroneous.[8][9][10][11]

According to the Cochrane review on vitamin C and the common cold, 1 g/day or more of vitamin C does not influence common cold incidence in the general community.[10] However, in five randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trials with participants who were under heavy short-term physical stress (three of the trials were with marathon runners), vitamin C halved the incidence of colds.[10] In the dose of 1 g/day or more, vitamin C shortened the duration of colds in adults by 8% and in children by 18%.[10] Vitamin C also decreased the severity of colds.


Echinacea flower

A systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration, last updated in 2006, examines sixteen randomized controlled trials studying various echinacea preparations for prevention and treatment of the common cold. Echinacea showed no benefit over placebo for prevention. Evidence for treatment was inconsistent. Reported side effects were rare.[2]

2007 meta-analyses conclude that there is some evidence that echinacea may reduce either the duration or severity of the common cold, but results are not consistent.[12]

Use of echinacea preparations is not currently recommended.[1][13][14][15][16][17]

Chicken soup[edit]

In the twelfth century, Moses Maimonides wrote, "Chicken recommended as an excellent food as well as medication."[18] Since then, there have been numerous reports in the United States that chicken soup alleviates the symptoms of the common cold. Even usually staid medical journals have published tongue-in-cheek humorous articles on the alleged medicinal properties of chicken soup.[19][20][21]

Pelargonium sidoides Extract[edit]

Main article: Pelargonium sidoides

A 2013 Cochrane review cautioned that most of the following studies were conducted in Ukraine or Russia and sponsored by the manufacturer of the plant extracts (see main article Pelargonium sidoides).

A randomized, placebo-controlled study was undertaken to assess the efficacy of a liquid extract of Pelargonium sidoides (EPs) for the treatment of the common cold.[22] The study included 103 adult patients (18–55 years old) with at least 2 major and 1 minor or with 1 major and 3 minor cold symptoms for 24 to 48 hours. Major cold symptoms included nasal discharge and sore throat; minor symptoms included nasal congestion, sneezing, scratchy throat, hoarseness, cough, headache, muscle aches, and fever.

The primary outcome measure was the Sum of Symptom Intensity Differences (SSID) of the Cold Intensity Score (CIS) from day 1 to day 5. Secondary outcomes included activity level, overall well-being, changes of other cold-related symptoms, ability to work, health-related quality of life, time until onset of treatment effect, treatment outcome, and satisfaction with treatment.

From baseline to day 5, the mean SSID improved by 14.6 points in the EPs group compared with 7.6 points in the placebo group. The mean CIS decreased by 10.4 points and 5.6 points in the EPs and placebo groups, respectively. After 10 days, 78.8% of the EPs group was clinically cured compared with 31.4% in the placebo group. The mean duration of inability to work was significantly lower in the EPs group (6.9 days) compared with the placebo group (8.2 days).

A proprietary extract from the roots of the Pelargonium sidoides plant (EPs 7630) has been the subject of 20 clinical studies on upper respiratory infections involving more than 9,000 patients, including 3,900 children.[23] It has been shown to safely and effectively treat upper respiratory tract infections including bronchitis,[24][25][26][27] tonsillopharyngitis in children,[28] sinusitis,[29] and the common cold.[30] In reviewing the research on Pelargonium sidoides for the common cold, reviewers in the Journal of Family Practice concluded, "In the final analysis, we think that these findings justify recommending this (Pelargonium sidoides) to our patients...Our conclusion is that patients could be advised to purchase the medication to have on hand at home at the start of the cold season...More importantly, this degree of improvement in cold symptoms is dramatically better than other common OTC treatments, including vitamin C, echinacea, and zinc preparations."[31]

Steam inhalation[edit]

Many people believe that steam inhalation reduces cold symptoms.[32] A 2006 systematic review concludes that "there is insufficient evidence to support the use of steam inhalation as a treatment."[33] There have been reports of children being badly burned by accidentally spilling the water used for steam inhalation.[34]


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