Coping with a cold? Doctors believe paracetamol is the best treatment to keep on top of coughs, colds and sore throats.
New research suggests paracetamol – contained in many over the counter remedies – is superior to ibuprofen, or a combination of paracetamol and ibuprofen.
The widely used practice of inhaling steam to ease symptoms also offers little comfort to sufferers, according to researchers from the University of Southampton.
In addition, one in 50 people ends up with mild scalding to add to their woes.
Professor Paul Little, who led the study, said ‘Paracetamol, 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.’ The randomised control trial recruited 899 patients who went to their GP with respiratory tract infection symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose and a cough.
They received different treatment types; paracetamol, ibuprofen or a combination of both.
Patients were then told to either take it as needed or at regular intervals of four times a day and some were also told to take steam inhalation.
The research showed that patients were more likely to come back within a month with worsening symptoms or new symptoms if they were prescribed with ibuprofen or ibuprofen with paracetamol.
Between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of participants in the study who were prescribed ibuprofen or ibuprofen with paracetamol came back, says a report in the British Medical Journal (must credit).
In addition to sales of paracetamol tablets, the drug is available to buy in many cold and flu remedies and can be obtained on NHS prescription.
The NHS spent £61 million on paracetamol in 2011 for GPs’ patients, with £20.6m going on prescriptions for ibuprofen.
The two drugs work in different, but complementary ways.
Ibuprofen blocks the production of various chemicals in the body, including prostaglandins which are produced in response to injury or disease and cause inflammation.
Paracetamol blocks a different enzyme in the brain and spinal cord involved in the transmission of pain.
Ibuprofen taken as pills or in liquid form numbs the site of pain and reduces inflammation, and is widely used for arthritic pain.
It has a relatively low level of side effects, although it can cause stomach bleeding, kidney damage, allergic reactions. It should not be taken by people who are allergic to aspirin.
Professor Little admitted the research findings were surprising and may mean that treatment with ibuprofen contributes to the progression of the illness.
He said ‘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.’ The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Programme Grants for Applied Research programme.
Read more: Daily Mail