Limited Evidence for OTC Preps to Treat Nasal Symptoms of Colds

Nasal decongestants can be used for short periods for adults; their safety is unclear for children.
Nasal decongestants can be used for short periods for adults; their safety is unclear for children.

HealthDay News — Limited evidence is available for over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for nasal symptoms of the common cold, according to a report published online October 10 in The BMJ.

Noting that the common cold is usually caused by viruses and is mostly self-limiting, Mieke L. van Driel, MD, PhD, from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and colleagues address the effectiveness of OTC common cold treatments for adults and children. 

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The authors note that evidence for the effectiveness of OTC treatments for the common cold is limited and of low quality. For adults, low-quality evidence suggests that decongestants may have a small effect on nasal symptoms; however, harms include increased risk for insomnia, drowsiness, headache, or gastrointestinal upset, and long-term use can lead to chronic nasal congestion. No evidence of nasal symptom relief was seen for other commonly used OTC treatments. Evidence for common cold treatments is more limited in children, with trials lacking for children younger than 12. Low-quality evidence suggests that saline irrigations or drops may be effective and safe in young children. Evidence for decongestants is limited, and their safety is unclear, especially in young children. Serious harms have been linked to decongestant use in very young children. Adequate evidence is not available to support other commonly used OTC and home treatments.

"Based on the currently available evidence, reassurance that symptoms are self-limiting is the best you can offer patients," the authors write.

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