"The predominance of the evidence, in children, is that they don't work," Paul said. "The jury is still out for adults."
But that doesn't mean parents should abandon all medicines marketed to children, even when children are suffering from colds.
"We have very good medicines available for discomfort," Paul said. "One of the biggest things for cough and cold is discomfort, that feeling of being achy all over."
For that, Paul said parents can use the children's version of Advil, Tylenol or Motrin, the last two helpful to reduce a child's fever.
Parents could also use these drugs' generic equivalent, but doctors warn against using the combination pain and cold medications.
"Although you may want to make the kid feel better, these medications have been shown to have side effects," said Daniel Frattarelli, director of Pediatric Education for Oakwood Hospital in Deerborn, Mich.
Paul and Fratterelli say the side effects can range from hyperactivity to sedation, to death in some cases. While most side effects are the result of an overdose, finding the right dose for a child can become complicated fast with multisymptom drugs.
"Dad might give chest and cold and mom might give cold and flu and not realize there's the same medicine in both," Paul said. "Or they may spit some out and you try to give some more, so the dosing is imprecise."
Apart from the straightforward pain and fever relievers, Paul and Frattarelli have a few tricks to help sick children.
"Last year I published a paper that honey was better for suppressing cough than dextromethorphan -- the only over the counter-cough suppressant," said Paul, who warned that honey should not be given to infants younger than a year-old.
Frattarelli just thought children and parents need to take it easy.
"The most important thing parents [should] realize is that kids, on average, will get six or eight of these [colds] a year," Frattarelli said. "If the parent is getting all worked up about this, the kid is going to pick up on that."
Otherwise, said Frattarelli, "it's really just about supportive care and reassuring,"
Ted Epperly, president elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, believes the same advices works for adults treating other adults.
"The key thing that is going to help people through this is to be patient," Epperly said. "I would caution people into thinking that medications are going to be a great help."
He added, "Nothing is as good as rest, fluids and just giving your body a chance to recover."
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