The study was published in the /Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
A common cold
is more of an irritant than a serious ailment. It makes the affected person uncomfortable, who is avoided by other people due to the fear of catching the virus. The viral infection causes symptoms of runny or choked nose, sore throat, sneezing and cough. It results in loss of days of work or school attendance and keeps the patient grounded for a few days.
‘There is insufficient evidence to support the use of antihistamines for a common cold. Adequate rest, a hot drink and steam inhalation may be all that you need when afflicted by common cold.’
There is no specific recommended treatment for a common cold and the patient usually recovers even without treatment in seven to ten days.
Antibiotics which are often misused for the condition are an absolute no-no
. Several other medications in the form of inhalers, syrups and tablets/ capsules are used over-the-counter to bring about relief from the symptoms. These often contain a drug belonging to the group of antihistamines - drugs that are usually used to suppress an allergic reaction. Examples for antihistamines include Cetirizine, Diphenhydramine, Fexofenadine and Brompheniramine.
They provide relief from symptoms of allergy like a runny nose, sneezing and itchy skin. It must be emphasized that though both common cold and an allergic reaction could have similar symptoms, their underlying cause is different - a common cold is due to an infection by rhinovirus, or sometimes due to coronaviruses, influenza viruses or adenoviruses, while an allergic reaction is due to the release of chemicals like histamine into the blood.
The Cochrane study analyzed the effects of use of antihistamines in the treatment of common cold.
The researchers searched for randomized controlled trials that used only antihistamines for the treatment of common cold from the CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, LILACS and Biosis Previews databases.
The research team zeroed on 18 studies for their analysis. These included 4342 participants, out of which 212 were children. In some studies, the participants contracted the common cold naturally, while in others, the individuals were exposed to the virus under experimental conditions. The researchers found that, when an antihistamine was used in the treatment of common cold either orally or intranasally
- Adults experienced a short-term benefit in the severity of overall symptoms on day one and two of the treatment. However, the benefit was not observed between three to ten days after the beginning of treatment.
- Sedative antihistamines provided some benefit in symptoms of nose running and sneezing. Sedative antihistamines are the older antihistamines; the newer antihistamines lack the sedative effect or are less sedating. However, sedating antihistamines are also associated with side effects like dry mouth, blurring of vision, constipation and urinary retention in addition to drowsiness.
- The benefits of antihistamines in children for common cold were not very clear, and these drugs are not likely to be very useful in this population.
Thus, currently, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of antihistamines to treat common cold. Under such circumstances, it is better to reach out to home remedies to provide symptomatic relief in common cold.
- De Sutter AIM, Saraswat A, van Driel ML. Antihistamines for the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 11. DOI 10.1002/14651858.CD009345.pub2.