Echinacea is not effective in shortening the duration or decreasing the severity of upper respiratory tract infections in children, according to a study in the December 3 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) are a significant health burden in childhood, according to background information in the article. The average child has six to eight colds each year, each lasting seven to nine days. While children are frequently given drugs such as decongestants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants to reduce symptoms, there is little evidence that these medications are effective in children younger than 12 years. The authors add that it has been estimated that 11 percent to 21 percent of children in the United States and Canada who are receiving care from conventional physicians are also using alternative therapies. Echinacea, one of the most commonly used herbal remedies in the U.S., has been used extensively for the prevention and treatment of URIs in adults.
James A. Taylor, M.D., from the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues, conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine the effectiveness and safety of Echinacea purpurea (a type of echinacea used for medicinal purposes) in treating URIs in children two to 11 years old. A total of 524 children were included in the study. The patients were randomized to receive either echinacea or placebo for up to three URIs over a four-month period. The echinacea or placebo was started at the onset of symptoms and continued for a maximum of ten days.
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