(HealthDay News) — The evidence relating to prevention and treatment of the common cold is frequently poor, but best evidence for prevention supports physical methods such as handwashing and possibly use of zinc supplements, according to a review published online January 27 in CMAJ, the journal of the Canadian Medical Association.

G. Michael Allan, MD, from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and Bruce Arroll, MB, ChB, PhD, from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, reviewed the evidence relating to preventive and treatment options for the common cold.

The researchers note that evidence for interventions to prevent and treat the common cold is frequently of poor quality, with inconsistent results. The best evidence indicates that physical preventive measures such as handwashing can reduce the risk of getting or spreading upper respiratory infections. Zinc supplements may be effective for reducing the number of colds per year in children. The best evidence supports use of traditional treatments, including acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain and fever and possibly intranasal ipratropium and antihistamine-decongestant combinations. For children, ibuprofen seems to be superior to acetaminophen for the treatment of fever. The best evidence for nontraditional treatments supports oral zinc supplement use in adults and bedtime honey for children older than 1 year with cough.

“Many of the results were inconsistent and had small effects (e.g., vitamin C), which arouses suspicion that any noted benefit may represent bias rather than a true effect,” the authors write. “We encourage researchers to perform well-designed randomized controlled trials on promising treatments or on preventive methods with limited evidence (i.e., gargling or garlic).”

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