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Don't give children decongestants! Experts warn blocked nose medicines don't work and may be harmful for children under 12

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 10/10/2018 Sam Blanchard Health Reporter For Mailonline
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Young children shouldn't be given decongestants because there's no proof they work and they might be unsafe, experts have warned.

Researchers argue medicines used to relieve blocked noses should never be given to children under six years old, and only given with caution to under-12s.

Children should instead be told their symptoms will get better on their own. Most colds are caused by viruses which can't be treated but cure themselves.

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While decongestants can help adults, there is no proof they work for children and they might instead cause drowsiness or stomach problems, a study found.

Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia and the University of Ghent in Belgium, made the claim in the British Medical Journal today.

They reviewedevidence on the suitability of decongestants for children – household brand decongestants include Sudafed, Vicks and Olbas Oil, but specific brands were not named by the scientists.

Professor Mieke van Driel, of the University of Queensland, said: 'There is no evidence that these treatments alleviate nasal symptoms and they can cause adverse effects such as drowsiness or gastrointestinal upset.' 

a close up of a drink: Vicks and Olbas Oil are well known brands but were not named in the study © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Vicks and Olbas Oil are well known brands but were not named in the study Children suffer around six to eight colds per year, the researchers said, while adults get two to four. 

For adults, using decongestants for three to seven days could have a small effect on nasal symptoms.

But side effects may include insomnia, drowsiness, headaches or stomach problems.

And using them for too long can actually make the blocked nose worse and harder to get rid of.

Related: What is the difference between cold and flu? (Birmingham Mail)

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However, trials on their effects on children are lacking, especially among those under 12 who have the most common colds.

The study authors wrote: 'Some products that contain decongestant may improve nasal symptoms in children, but their safety, especially in young children, is unclear.'

And they said: 'Do not prescribe decongestants to children under 12, as evidence of their effectiveness is limited and associated risks may exist.'

Vapour rub may relieve congestion but could cause skin rashes, the research added. 

a close up of a bottle: Decongestants which claim to help treat blocked noses and sinuses should not be given to children under the age of six, and should only be given to under-12s with caution, scientists said © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Decongestants which claim to help treat blocked noses and sinuses should not be given to children under the age of six, and should only be given to under-12s with caution, scientists said In children under two, Professor van Driel said the drugs have even been associated with convulsions, rapid heart rate and death. 

She said none of the other commonly used over-the-counter and home treatments, such as heated humidified air, analgesics, eucalyptus oil, or echinacea, are supported by scientific evidence. 

'If parents are concerned about their child's comfort,' Professor van Driel added, 'saline nasal irrigations or drops can be used safely, but this may not give the desired relief.'

The researchers said it was unlikely that any studies would produce evidence pointing to a treatment for the common cold.    

Colds are usually caused by viruses and are mostly self limiting, with symptoms clearing in seven to 10 days.

But the illness can have a substantial impact on work, school, health services, and money spent on medications.

Paracetamol and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are sometimes prescribed for pain relief, but they do not appear to improve nasal congestion or runny nose.  

Professor van Driel added: 'Based on the currently available evidence, reassurance that symptoms are self limiting is the best you can offer patients, although short term use of decongestants in adults can provide some relief from a blocked nose.'


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