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Why ibuprofen is bad for colds, sore throat

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Ibuprofen drugs

If you have a cold, cough, sore throat or other respiratory tract infection, you may want to avoid taking ibuprofen and using steam inhalation, as researchers say neither will work and may even prolong the illness or make it worse, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal.


Researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK conducted the study, which involved 889 patients over the age of 3 who were suffering from colds and sore throats. Each patient was randomly assigned to take one of the following treatments: ibuprofen, paracetamol, both ibuprofen and paracetamol, with and without steam inhalation.

The researchers then reviewed how severe each patient’s symptoms were after two days, and then again after 4 days. On those days, they also took the patients temperature and checked to see if they were on any antibiotics, as well as if the patient asked for another consultation.

As a result, the findings revealed that ibuprofen, or a combination of ibuprofen and paracetamol, did not provide patients with colds and sore throats any significant relief, compared with paracetamol when taken alone. Additionally, the researchers found that steam inhalation did not offer any relief either to these ill patients.

Nevertheless, patients with respiratory tract infections like colds, coughs and sore throat commonly take ibuprofen, paracetamol or both more frequently than any other treatment to relieve their symptoms, according to study leader Paul Little, professor of Primary Care Research in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Southampton.

However, Little pointed out that caution is warranted before taking these commonly used medications for respiratory tract infections, as he “would personally not advise most patients to use ibuprofen for symptom control for coughs, colds and sore throat."

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He also noted that ibuprofen did not help children with these illnesses either, including those who had chest infections.

Meanwhile, steam inhalation continues to be a recommended treatment for alleviating symptoms of colds, coughs, sore throat and other respiratory tract infections, even though this latest study found that it fails to provide any relief, and it may even cause some people to experience mild thermal injury, Little warned.

According to the study results, approximately 1 in 50 patients using steam inhalation for relief of respiratory tract infections may also suffer mild scalding.

The findings also revealed that when compared with patients taking only paracetamol, patients who took ibuprofen, or a combination of ibuprofen and paracetamol, were up to 70 percent more likely to come back within a month without any symptomatic relief, and in some cases, with new complications.

Prof. Little admitted that he was surprised by the results, indicating that ibuprofen seems to be what contributes to the progression of respiratory tract infections, which he suspects may have to do with the anti-inflammatory nature of ibuprofen.

In this regard, he says that ibuprofen may possibly interfere with an individual’s immune response, which in turn leads to a progression or worsening of symptoms in some people.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, Ibuprofen, paracetamol, and steam for patients with respiratory tract infections in primary care: pragmatic randomised factorial trial; P Little, M Moore, J Kelly, I Williamson, G Leydon, L McDermott, and others; BMJ 2013;347:f6041, published online 25 October 2013; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.f6041.



Not buying it. :) - but it's interesting. If your cold is getting worse and you're taking ibuprofen, might be so....