Avoid cough syrup - it just doesn't work.
Byline: DR MIRIAM STOPPARD
I've never been in favour of giving children cough cures. For one thing, it's hard to distinguish between an irritating cough and a productive one with phlegm.
So I feel you should never try to stop a child's cough because it could be performing the crucial service of cleaning out the lungs.
Now add the fact that I'm keen on placebos (a medical effect with dummy medicine) and we get to a recent study at the excellent Penn State College of Medicine in the US.
Here, scientists compared the effects of agave nectar on night-time coughs with placebo syrup and no treatment at all. Findings showed nectar and placebo treatments both improved coughs.
So experts are now saying doctors should consider prescribing dummy cough syrup.
Scientists at the Penn State College of Medicine say opting for a dummy cough syrup could be the best way to treat a child's cough.
The team of researchers compared the effects of an agave nectar - a natural sweet syrup from the agave plant - on night-time coughs and sleep disturbance with that of a placebo syrup. A third group got no treatment at all. The findings revealed both the nectar and dummy treatment produced marked improvements in children's conditions.
A group of 119 children took part in the study, carried out by Dr Ian Paul.
The placebo they used in the study was a grape-flavoured water, coloured with caramel.
That and the agave nectar were given to the children just before they went to bed. Children aged two to 47 months took part in the one-night study.
They only qualified for the trial if they had experienced a cough for seven days or less.
Dr Tim Ballard, vice chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "The medical evidence behind cough medicines is weak and there is no evidence to say that they will reduce the duration of illnesses - as such, GPs are unlikely to prescribe them."
A Which? investigation two years ago found many popular cough medicines don't work as well as they claim to.
The report authors concluded that studies used to support the claims of effectiveness for cough syrups and medicines are often poor quality.
Also, many contain high doses of sugar - with a week's adult dose of one popular product containing as much sugar as five Mars bars.
So ditch the cough medicines. Good old homemade honey and lemon could be just the remedy.
One contains as much sugar as 5 Mars bars