Putting feet up better than cold remedies?


New Zealand’s answer to ASMI has hit back at Consumer NZ’s investigation into cough and cold remedies, which found they lacked evidence to support their use

Consumer NZ says that “expensive over-the-counter cold and flu remedies are often no more effective than paracetamol, honey and putting your feet up for a few days”.

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin suggested that instead of heading to a pharmacy to buy cough medicines or decongestants, consumers might as well “save their money and stick with bed rest and a painkiller”.

Consumer NZ examined more than 50 remedies, from antihistamines and decongestants to cough drops.

Ms Chetwin cited independent systematic reviews of dextromethorphan and guaifenesin which did not find good evidence of their effectiveness.

Much of the supporting research on phenylephrine was also conducted more than 40 years ago and many of the studies had design flaws, she says. Pseudoephedrine has not been available OTC in New Zealand since 2011.

The investigation cited three US trials published in the last decade which found the ingredient was no better at relieving congestion than placebo.

“Consumers who buy a product that says it will clear their nose and ease their cough should be able to expect there’s consistent evidence to support the claim. But that’s not the case with many cold and flu products,” Ms Chetwin says.

Ms Chetwin says Consumer NZ has raised its concerns with Medsafe, the Ministry of Health agency tasked with ensuring over-the-counter medication is safe and effective.

“We have asked Medsafe to review the effectiveness and marketing of these ingredients. Like any product, cold and flu remedies should be true to label and do what they say they’ll do.”

Consumer NZ also raised the issue of double dosing.

But the New Zealand Self-Medication Industry says consumers can continue to use the products with confidence.

Speaking to Pharmacy Today, the organisation said it strongly disagrees with Consumer NZ’s report.

SMI executive director Scott Milne said that despite the fact that some data supporting the efficacy of older ingredients were not recent, this was not a reason to decide the ingredients did not work.

“Most of the ingredients mentioned in the Consumer NZ article have been available in cough and cold preparations for more than 30 years. OTC cough and cold products have a long history of safe use in New Zealand in both adults and children,” he told Pharmacy Today.

In 2012, Australia’s TGA directed that cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under the age of six unless on the advice of a doctor, pharmacist or nurse practitioner. This followed a review which found no immediate safety risks, but that there was evidence to suggest potential harm in children, while their benefits had “not been proven”.

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