By Michael Conlon
CHICAGO, Jan 21 (Reuters) - For parents worried about how to treat children’s colds now that some medicines have been called into question, the answer may be a dose of salt water.
A nasal spray made from Atlantic Ocean seawater eased wintertime cold symptoms faster and slowed cough and cold symptoms from returning among children ages 6 to 10, researchers in Europe reported on Monday.
It may be that the salt water has a simple mechanical effect of clearing mucus, or it could be that trace elements in the water play some more significant role, though the exact reason why such a solution works is not known, said Dr. Ivo Slapak and colleagues at the Teaching Hospital of Brno in the Czech Republic.
The study, published in the January issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology, was paid for by Goemar Laboratoires La Madeleine, Saint-Malo, France, which makes Physiomer, the seawater nasal spray used in the investigation.
The authors said that while saline washes have long been mentioned as a treatment for colds, scientific evidence about whether they work is poor.
The report was published days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said children under 2 should not be given nonprescription cough and cold medicines because they are too dangerous for that age group, with deaths, convulsions and rapid heart rates reported in rare cases.
U.S. health officials have not yet decided if the widely sold medicines made by companies such as Wyeth WYE.N and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) are appropriate for older children, and have said they hope to have a ruling covering appropriate use for children 2 to 11 later this year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has said cough and cold products are ineffective for children under age 6, and may also be risky.
The Czech study involved 390 children with uncomplicated cold or flu symptoms. Some of the children were given standard treatments such as nasal decongestants. Others received those same medications plus the saline nasal wash, which the authors said "preserves the concentrations of ions and trace elements at levels comparable with those of seawater."
The study lasted for 12 weeks in the winter of 2006. Children given the salt water spray got it six times a day initially and three times a day in the latter part of the study when the investigators were looking at whether it would prevent symptoms from redeveloping.
The noses of children given the spray were less stuffy and runny the second time they were checked, the study said. And eight weeks after the study began, those in the saline group had significantly fewer severe sore throats, coughs, nasal obstructions and secretions than those given standard treatments.
Fewer children in the saline group had to use fever-reducing drugs, nasal decongestants and mucus-dissolving medications or antibiotics, the researchers said. In addition children who used the salt spray were sick less often and missed fewer school days. (Editing by Maggie Fox and Vicki Allen)