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Agave Nectar, Placebo Aided Children Suffering from a Cough

Update Date: Oct 27, 2014 04:15 PM EDT

Parents believed that giving some form of treatment, such as pasteurized agave nectar or a placebo, to young children suffering from a cough can help. According to the study, these treatments trumped no treatment in alleviating nighttime cough and improved sleep in infants and toddlers based on the parents' perceptions.

For this study, the team headed by Ian M. Paul, M.D., M.Sc., of the Penn State College of Medicine, recruited 119 young children between the ages of two and 47-months who suffered from a nonspecific acute cough for one to seven days. The children were separated into three treatment groups (agave nectar, placebo and no treatment). Treatment was only assessed for one night.

The researchers found that the parents who treated their infants and toddlers with agave nectar or a placebo believed that their children's cough symptoms improved. When agave nectar was compared to the placebo, the researchers found that one treatment was not any more effective than the other.

"Both physicians and parents want symptomatic relief for children with these common and annoying illnesses. The significant placebo effect found warrants consideration as health care providers and parents determine how best to manage the disruptive symptoms that occur in the setting of upper respiratory tract infections among young children. Placebo could offer some perceived benefit, although at a financial cost, while reducing inappropriate antibiotic prescribing," Paul and his colleagues concluded according to the press release.

James A. Taylor, M.D., and Douglas J. Opel, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Washington, Seattle added, in an accompanying editorial, "Although the study intervention provided no more relief from cough symptoms than placebo, both treatments were statistically superior to no treatment. The investigators contend that these findings are indicative of a placebo effect. As investigators...continue to evaluate pharmacologic treatments, perhaps we should also conduct research designed to identify other components of care (e.g., communication techniques and nonspecific treatments) that improve outcomes after visits to clinicians by children with cold symptoms, even if the improvement is simply caused by a placebo effect, as broadly characterized."

The study and the editorial were published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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