By: Tirthna Badhiwala
Oh yes, you read that title correctly.
One of the most common reasons why parents have their young child visit health care professionals is because the child has a cough and the parents seek effective therapy. However, the FDA issued warning labels against the use of almost all over-the-counter medicines for acute coughing in children under the age of two.
Many parents choose to use honey as an alternative treatment for their child’s cough. However, the consumption of honey has been linked to infant botulism, which is caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria consumed through certain foods. Does this leave concerned parents at a dead end for treating their child’s cough?
A group of pediatricians teamed up with researchers to find the perfect alternative to the at-home honey remedy. Since agave nectar is similar to honey in viscosity and taste, the group hypothesized that it would be an effective alternative for honey.
Children were divided into three treatment groups: agave nectar, placebo, and no treatment. Parents were not informed of whether they were giving the nectar or the placebo.
The results seemed a bit strange at first. Indeed, the agave nectar was significantly more effective than no treatment. However, so was the placebo, and the two were equally effective! But… how? It’s not like the babies knew they were being treated, so a placebo would not have an effect on them.
Dr. Ian M Paul, lead author of the study, said the key reason for this is that even though parents get concerned and ask the pediatrician for unnecessary antibiotics when their child has a cough, most coughs in young children are not a sign of a serious illness and tend to go away over time.
So, rather than the placebo effect working on the babies, it was working on the parents. This goes to show that simply the way parents feel about their children’s condition can be a benefit.