A recent study found that a placebo may be the best cure for minor coughs among infants and toddlers.
Researchers studied 119 children, aged two months to four-years-old, with coughs lasting seven days or less. The children included those with nonspecific acute coughs, eliminating those with signs or symptoms of more treatable diseases, such as asthma or pneumonia, or a history of lung disease or other chronic illness.
“Cough is one of the most common reasons why children visit a healthcare professional,” the study reads.
A placebo is “a harmless pill, medicine, or procedure prescribed more for the psychological benefit to the patient than for any physiological effect.”
The children were divided into three groups. The first was given a dose of agave nectar, the second grape-flavored water, and the third no treatment at all. Agave nectar has a similar consistency and sweetness to honey. Honey is not recommended for children under one, due to the risk of botulism — a serious bacterial disease. The researchers predicted the nectar could alleviate coughing for all children.
The researchers concluded that the nectar and placebo were significantly more effective than no treatment, and the parents reported that the nectar and placebo worked equally well.
The lead author, Dr. Ian M. Paul, a professor of pediatrics at Penn State, said the placebo was most likely working on the parents, not the children, but either way it may be a good option for pediatricians to recommend.
“[A cough is] something you always get better from anyway,” Paul said. “So which is more important — that the child actually coughs less or that parents feel they’re coughing less and then don’t call the doctor, don’t ask for unnecessary antibiotics? There are positive benefits to parents simply feeling better about their child’s condition.”