Harvard Health Letter

Cold comfort

The cold is as common as ever, but a good remedy is hard to find.

The cold season has arrived, a cure hasn't, and even efforts at treating the symptoms seem like a dubious proposition these days.

Over-the-counter cold remedies have come under harsh scrutiny lately. In October 2007, an FDA advisory panel recommended a ban on cold medicines for children under six, and in anticipation of that vote, several drug makers pulled their infant cold medicines off the shelves. Medicines for adults weren't affected, but they don't have a track record that inspires great confidence. A drug called phenylpropanolamine was used as a nasal decongestant in many products until researchers linked it to hemorrhagic strokes in women. Guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians in 2006 cast doubt on the effectiveness of cough expectorants and suppressants included in many over-the-counter products.

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