Survey shows at least half of parents try vitamin C, zinc, and other methods that don’t have much impact on colds.

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A new survey points out some of the mistakes parents make in treating a child’s cold, but researchers say there’s a lot parents do right, too. Getty Images

What’s better prevention for keeping your kids from catching a cold?

Vitamin C tablets or regular hand-washing?

And is echinacea a better cold treatment than a tall glass of water?

Your answer matters.

More than half of parents may be using non-evidence–based methods of helping prevent or treat their children’s colds, a new survey from the University of Michigan suggests.

Those methods included vitamin C supplements, echinacea, supplements marketed as “immune system boosters,” and zinc, among others, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health shows.

The problem is that these methods don’t work.

“Zinc and vitamin C are the two items people most commonly seek out in the pharmacy area, but neither has solid, conclusive evidence that they prevent or reduce the severity of the common cold,” Brady McNulty, PharmD, an affiliate faculty member at Oregon Health Sciences University, told Healthline. “Zinc, especially if taken in doses above the daily recommended allowance, has the chance to cause flu-like symptoms and alter someone’s ability to taste.”

In addition to these methods, around 70 percent of parents used “folklore strategies” to try to prevent their children from catching a cold.

That included everything from preventing their kids from going outside in winter with wet hair (52 percent) as well as keeping them indoors (48 percent) to stave off a bug.

“It’s important for parents to understand which cold prevention strategies are evidence-based,” Dr. Gary Freed, MPH, co-director of the poll and a pediatrician at Mott, wrote in a university press release. “While some methods are very effective in preventing children from catching the cold, others have not been shown to actually make any difference.”

School-age children catch colds — around three to six per year — according to the Mott survey.

It’s an inevitability.

But every parent knows all too well that staying home with a sick kid isn’t fun for anyone. So it’s no wonder so many are invested in preventing colds in the first place and speeding up recovery when they happen.

Colds are viruses, so the main way to prevent them is to prevent kids from coming into direct contact with the virus.

That means staying away from mucus droplets spread through the air from someone coughing or sneezing, or from playing with toys, or touching door handles, countertops, and other objects that may have the cold virus on them.

And on that front, parents are doing many things correctly.

The Mott poll reports 99 percent of parents polled said that encouraging good hygiene was an important way to help prevent their children from catching a cold.

Aside from washing hands regularly, that included tactics such as teaching kids not to put their hands near their noses and mouths (94 percent), avoiding sharing drinks and utensils with other children (94 percent), and even using hand sanitizer regularly (70 percent).

Furthermore, most parents are also teaching their kids to stay away from people who are already sick (87 percent) and even going so far as to ask their relatives who have colds to limit contact with their healthy children (64 percent).

But then, despite your best efforts, your kid gets sick.

“There isn’t a lot we can do that’s going to change the duration or symptoms of a cold,” Dr. Priyanka Rao, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital told Michigan Health News. “It’s more about helping a child be comfortable so they can recover.”

On that front, much of the old wisdom passed down through the generations is still relevant.

For instance, chicken soup, “for the hydration, the electrolytes, the steam, really can ease symptoms, said Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Ditto hot tea with lemon and honey, sports drinks such as Gatorade, and water and juice.

Just be careful not to give honey to children under 12 months old, since there is a small but serious risk they could contract botulism.

Beyond that, “using a humidifier, lots of liquid — warm clear fluids tend to be best — and saline sprays in the nostrils [that] can be used safely even in infants, up to four times per day” are key, Fisher told Healthline.

Gargling with warm salt water has also been proven to reduce some of the negative symptoms of sore throat as well as reduce a person’s risk of developing an upper respiratory tract infection. Dissolve 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt per 4 to 8 ounces of warm water, the Mayo Clinic suggests.

Finally, there’s the one surefire cold killer: plenty of rest.

“The goal of treating a cold is supportive care while the body does the rest of the hard work,” McNulty said.

A new survey from the University of Michigan indicates that more than half of parents are employing methods that don’t work in either preventing or treating children’s colds.

Among the remedies that aren’t effective are vitamin C, zinc, and keeping children from going outside in cold weather with wet hair.

On the other hand, most parents are teaching their children good preventative habits, such as washing their hands regularly and staying away from people who are sick.

In addition, chicken soup and hot tea with lemon and honey are effective ways to reduce symptoms and the duration of colds.