Saline Rinse May Cut Cold Symptoms

Seeking a remedy for your child's head cold? Rather than reaching for pills, you might want to take a less common, and more effective, approach — shooting a jet of salt water up his or her nose might do the trick, according to a new study.

This may sound strange to many who have relied on more traditional medical cabinet staples, such as decongestants, to offer relief for cold and flu symptoms. Yet, in light of recent concerns on the safety of cough and cold medicines for children, treating stuffy noses with a saline wash could represent a drug-free, potentially effective approach.

The study by Czech researchers, to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at 401 kids between 6 and 10 years old who suffered from cold or flu symptoms. While some received standard cough and cold medication alone, others got that, plus a saline nasal wash made from processed sea water. Investigators observed the participants during four visits over 12 weeks to assess the results.

Children assigned to the saline nasal wash group used the nasal wash six times per day during the first two to three weeks, and three times per day during the rest of the study period.

What researchers found was that, by their second doctor's visit, children using the saline nasal wash had less stuffy noses.

And by the eighth week of the study, these children also had significantly less severe sore throats, coughs, and nasal congestion than those who received only standard cough and cold medication.

"The study results show that saline nasal wash significantly improved nasal symptoms in the common cold in children, and shows potential to prevent the recurrence of upper respiratory tract infections," wrote Dr. Ivo Slapak, lead study investigator, and professor of pediatric otorhinolaryngology at the Teaching Hospital of Brno in the Czech Republic.

Relief ... and Results?

In addition to evaluating how efficient the saline wash was in treating children's colds, researchers also sought to evaluate the potential of the wash to prevent future upper respiratory tract infections. So, they looked at the recurrence rate of cold and flu, use of medication, number of sick days taken off from school, and reported days of illness for each child.

Children who received the saline wash had fewer reported recurrences of illness, lower school absences, and less complications, overall, than those treated only with standard medication.

Moreover, they found that, while 33 percent of children — in the group receiving only standard medication — reported using fever-reducing drugs, only 9 percent in the saline wash group required these drugs.

Similar patterns were seen with other common cold medications; only 5 percent of the saline wash group resorted to nasal decongestants, compared with 47 percent of their standard treatment counterparts. Just 10 percent of the saline wash kids needed mucus-dissolving medications, compared with 37 percent of those on standard treatment, and only 6 percent of kids getting the saline wash received antibiotics, compared with 21 percent of the children in the control group.

Sidestepping Side Effects

But beyond the proven efficacy of nasal saline washes, many doctors were encouraged by the study's finding that the saline washes had no significant adverse effects.

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