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No Surprise Cough Medicines Found Not Effective

It's not surprising that two active ingredients found in many over-the-counter cough medicines--dextromethorphan and diphenhydramin--are no better than a placebo for nighttime cough and sleep quality in children with upper respiratory tract infections, according to a new study.

Not only was there no significant improvement for the children who took cough medicines with the active ingredients, but in the cough frequency category, those who received placebo reported a higher improvement in cough frequency, whereas the parents of those who took the medicines with active ingredients reported a slightly lower improvement.

One unique aspect of this study: It considered whether parents' sleep was significantly better when their child took a cough medicine. Researchers found that, not only did children's sleep not improve, but their parents' sleep didn't improve when their children received active medication versus a placebo.

That's a good thing considering dextromethorphan has been found to cause birth defects. And diphenhydramin should never be used by children except in severe cases in which pain prevents sleep.

EurekAlert July 6, 2004

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