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If a painkiller is the first thing you reach for when you come down with a cold, you may be making your cold worse, not better. Research in England shows that one of the most common pills people take for a cold may worsen viral respiratory infections.
Scientists at the University of Southampton found that the use of ibuprofen is linked to longer illnesses. They also found that steam inhalation doesn’t help a cold either. (Though they did find that ibuprofen may help children with colds.)
Researcher Professor Paul Little, who led the study, says: “Paracetamol (acetaminophen), ibuprofen or a combination of both are the most common courses of treatment for respiratory tract infections. Clinicians should probably not advise patients to use steam inhalation in daily practice as it does not provide symptomatic benefit for acute respiratory infections and a few individuals are likely to experience mild thermal injury. Similarly, routinely advising ibuprofen or ibuprofen and paracetamol together than just paracetamol is also not likely to be effective. However our research has shown that ibuprofen is likely to help children, and those with chest infections.”
Little thinks that ibuprofen may interfere with the immune system’s defense against viruses: “This may have something to do with the fact the ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory. It is possible that the drug is interfering with an important part of the immune response and leads to prolonged symptoms or the progression of symptoms in some individuals. Although we have to be a bit cautious since these were surprise findings, for the moment I would personally not advise most patients to use ibuprofen for symptom control for coughs colds and sore throat.”