Author(s): Widdicombe JG, Ernst E
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Abstract We review the actions of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) in the treatment of cough and of the conditions associated with it; in particular asthma and upper respiratory tract infections. These therapies may work (1) peripherally, at the sites in the airways and lungs at which cough is being activated, (2) in the brainstem, where the neural "cough center" is situated, or (3) at the cerebral cortex, where cough can be initiated, suppressed or modified by conscious or unconscious controls. Of the large number of trials of CAMs against cough, most are inadequate in design. It may be difficult to randomize selection. Blinding is often impossible both for the patient and the therapist, and adequate placebo controls may be difficult to devise. The patient can usually identify the "active" treatment by the taste or smell of a medicine, or from the approach and apparatus being used. Pure chemicals can be extracted from many of the herbs used as antitussives, and can be shown to be effective in randomized, blind, and controlled trials, but it does not follow that the herb itself, used in the recommended formula and shown to be antitussive, acts by this agency unless a placebo effect is ruled out. A few herbs are identified where the evidence points to a true antitussive action. Of nonherbal treatments, the few positive results are usually outweighed by the larger number of negative ones. Thus, in general, CAMs for cough are welcomed enthusiastically by the patient but lack sound evidence for their efficacy. Antitussive chemicals can be extracted from many herbs, but it is no more than a reasonable hypothesis that the herb itself acts through this pathway.
This article was published in Handb Exp Pharmacol
and referenced in Natural Products Chemistry & Research