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Every time the winter comes, the same thing happens … the cold, the cough and the flu begin.
Many of us are prepared: we have a whole armament of medicines in our medicine cabinet.
But do you know what these remedies contain? And how effective are they really?
On the other hand, what about that famous homemade recipe of mixing hot water, lemon and honey? Works?
All that is what Dr. Chris van Tulleken proposed to find out as part of his BBC series “The truth about …”, which analyzes over-the-counter medications.
First he studied the cough, perhaps the symptom that most worries during the cold months, since it affects breathing.
Van Tulleken clarifies that no cough syrup, neither chemical nor homemade, cures what causes cough , which is usually a virus.
However, it stands out that stopping this reflex, which is caused when receptorsthat we have in the back of our throats, reacts to things like flu viruses and irritants, is important.
Not only for our welfare but also because the cough causes the virus to spread in the environment, so if we all cough less, we would reduce the chances of infection.
Lemon and honey
The theory behind cough syrups is that they line the back of the throat , where the receptors are, which calms the irritation.
This is the reason why syrups are usually thick and sticky.
Van Tulleken began his research studying the effectiveness of the home remedy that he himself took when he was little: a syrup made of hot water, lemon and honey .
“When I was a child my mother assured me that this would cure me, and I liked it, but then, when I started studying medicine, I became very skeptical about this type of home remedies,” the doctor confessed.
To test the effectiveness of the first-hand syrup, Van Tulleken turned to an expert in cough Alyn Morice of the Center for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research at the University of Hull, United Kingdom.
Morice gave him a mixture of vodka and hot pepper to irritate his throat and cause him to cough. Then, Van Tulleken took the infusion of lemon and honey.
“This is remarkable , it’s a damn miracle! ” He exclaimed as soon as he stopped coughing.
” Mom, I ‘m so sorry I doubted you, this is absolutely fantastic, I’m really amazed,” he said, admitting that his doubts are surely due to the “arrogance of the doctors.”
“We do not say that honey and lemon are effective because we do not have a scientific explanation for it,” he concluded.
But what about cough syrups that one can buy without a prescription in any pharmacy?
Many of them, in addition to using this formula of sweet syrup, which relieves the irritation, also contain other active ingredients that, according to the pharmaceutical ” help relieve other symptoms .”
Is it like that? Are they better than the natural remedy?
Van Tulleken analyzed the most commonly used in cough syrups:
- Guaifenesin : it is an expectorant but there is little evidence of its efficacy. It can generate nausea.
- Dextromethorphan : it is the cough suppressant most used but the evidence of its effectiveness is limited.
- Pseudoephedrine : the best known of the three. It is effective to dry secretions, so it works if your nose is runny. But there is no evidence that it acts against cough. And it can generate anxiety and accelerate the pulse.
“In my opinion, the evidence seems rather limited that over-the-counter medications are better than honey and lemon syrup, and since the home remedy does not contain drugs, you can drink as much as you want,” recommends Professor Morice.
In addition, you save money and avoid unwanted side effects , adds the cough expert.
But what happens when in addition to cough you have a cold or flu?
In those cases many of us go to the anti-flu remedies, which attack a whole series of symptoms.
Van Tulleken explains that many of these over-the-counter medications contain three drugs: paracetamol, ibuprofen and some decongestant .
In his series “The truth about …” the expert already showed that analgesics such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen serve to soothe general pains .
However, the doctor warns that flu viruses cause different symptoms in different people, so it does not always make sense to take a remedy that heals all the symptoms together .
For example, if you are not congested, it may be better for you to take only paracetamol or ibuprofen, instead of an anti-flu drug that has both and also a decongestant.
Or if your only symptom is a headache, able to also reach you with a low dose of painkillers.
“In essence, you will only get the benefits of a medication if you have those symptoms, otherwise you only expose yourself to unnecessary side effects,” advises the doctor.
“First we must think about the symptoms and then think about what medication we use to treat the symptom,” he explains.