By Lynne Peeples
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Vapor rub may relieve a kid's nighttime cough and nasal congestion, suggests a new study funded by Vick's, the makers of the old-fashioned topical treatment.
Most children suffer between six and 10 colds every year, according to the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And parents try lots of different remedies.
"There is no evidence to support the effectiveness of any of the oral over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for kids, even though they are used by one in 10 each week," Dr. Ian M. Paul of Penn State College of Medicine, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, told Reuters Health. "The American Academy of Pediatrics has been pretty clear and consistent on this."
Evidence supporting the use of vapor rub -- a commonly used concoction containing camphor, menthol and eucalyptus oils -- has also been lacking, added Paul.
After his team's previous research concluded that common cough suppressants and antihistamines (dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine) were no more effective at calming cold symptoms than placebo or honey, Paul recalled frequent queries from people curious about vapor rub: Could this traditional treatment fill the void for parents anxious to do more about their kid's cold than just letting it run its course?
Paul and his colleagues sought an answer from 138 kids, averaging 6 years old, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. They randomly assigned each kid to receive petroleum-based Vick's VapoRub, petroleum jelly without any active ingredients or no treatment.
Parents chosen to rub one of the two topical treatments into their child's chest at night were first instructed to apply vapor rub under their own noses. This was intended to hide the characteristic smell of vapor rub and keep parents blind to their child's treatment.
Based on surveys completed by parents at the time of enrollment in the study and within 30 minutes of waking after the one night of study treatment, kids receiving vapor rub experienced noticeably less cough, congestion and more restful sleep than kids in the other two groups.
Parents of the vapor-rubbed kids also reported improved sleep themselves.
"Kids and their parents slept better, and sleep is such an important thing for everyone, especially for kids that have to go to school the next day and parents who have to work," said Paul.
However, the rub didn't seem to relieve runny noses, noted the researchers in the journal Pediatrics, and it caused mild irritation in nearly half of kids.
More serious side effects have been associated with oral over-the-counter cold medicines, from as mild as a fast heart rate to as severe as death. "This is why the labels say not to use for children under age 4," said Paul.
Vicks VapoRub costs about $5 for 1.75 oz. There are also generic versions available.
How the concoction relieves cold symptoms is not entirely clear. The researchers suggest that the cooling sensation of menthol triggers the perception of improved airflow. But they aren't certain just how that might translate into improved symptoms.
"Parents want to give something. Pediatricians want to recommend something," Paul said. "They have been frustrated by the lack of evidence-based therapies for kids' cough and cold symptoms."
"I think we've given them something to try, and evidence that it works," he added. "For kids ages 2 and up vapor rub is a generally safe and effective therapy."
SOURCE: http://link.reuters.com/gas77m Pediatrics, online November 8, 2010.
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