The claims, the facts, the bottom line

The claims, the facts, the bottom line
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First Published: Mon, Oct 19 2009. 08 23 PM IST

Updated: Mon, Oct 19 2009. 08 23 PM IST
The Claim
With a runny nose, green calls for an antibiotic
The Facts
Old prescription habits apparently die hard.
Studies have suggested that most doctors say they would prescribe an antibiotic if a child with sinus symptoms also had green nasal discharge. The habit stems from the notion that green is indicative of a bacterial infection.
But other studies show that green is no more common in a bacterial infection than a viral one, for which antibiotics are ineffective. In a definitive study from 1984, scientists put 142 children with green nasal discharge into groups, including one that was treated with antibiotics and another that received a placebo. They found that the drugs had no effect on “potentially pathogenic organisms” or on symptoms. About 35% of subjects treated with antibiotics showed improvement, compared with 31% in the placebo group. More recent studies have bolstered that conclusion.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when cold viruses infect the respiratory tract, the body makes clear mucus that helps wash away germs from the nose and sinuses. After about three days, the body’s immune cells fight back, changing the discharge to a white or yellow colour. “As the bacteria that live in the nose grow back, they may also be found in the mucus, which changes to a greenish colour,” says the agency. “This is normal.”
The only time antibiotics are needed for a runny nose, say experts, is when the diagnosis is bacterial sinusitis.
The Bottom Line
Colour of nasal discharge should not dictate medicine.
The Claim
Chamomile can soothe a colicky baby
The Facts
Colic—uncontrolled screaming and crying in an otherwise healthy infant—can be one of the most stressful parts of raising a newborn.
While its cause is uncertain, there is evidence that it stems in part from gastrointestinal discomfort. That may explain why chamomile tea, which according to research can ease intestinal spasms, has long been a home remedy. Various studies have found it simple, inexpensive and fairly effective.
One report by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2007 reviewed two of those studies, including a randomized clinical trial that involved 68 colicky infants aged 2-8 weeks. One group received either herbal tea (warm or cool) made primarily with German chamomile, and the other a placebo. Each infant was offered either the tea or placebo with every bout of colic—up to 150ml (a little more than half a cup) no more than three times a day. After a week, “parents reported that the tea eliminated the colic in 57% of the infants,” the researchers reported, “whereas placebo was helpful in only 26%. No adverse effects were noted in either group.”
Other studies had similar results. Experts say allergies to chamomile are rare, but one way to check is to swab a bit on skin. If no redness develops, it should be safe.
The Bottom Line
Research suggests chamomile may ease colic.
The Claim
Loss of sight heightens other senses
The Facts
Studies suggest this familiar claim is more fact than fantasy.
In one series of studies, neuroscientists at McGill University, Canada, tested blind and sighted subjects for pitch perception and their ability to locate sounds. Blind subjects generally scored higher, which came as little surprise—until the scientists discovered that the time the subjects had become blind affected their performance.
Those who were born blind did best, those who became blind as small children were slightly behind and those who lost their vision after the age of 10 did no better than the sighted subjects. The implication was that a young brain could be rewired, so that visual processing areas were used for other purposes.
Perhaps the strongest evidence was shown in brain imaging studies in which scientists found that blind subjects who were best able to locate sound were engaging both the auditory and visual areas of the cortex. Blind subjects who scored low, as well as sighted subjects, had little or no activity in the visual lobe.
Other studies have had similar results with odour discrimination and tactile sensation.
The Bottom Line
Research suggests that at least in some circumstances, blindness can heighten other senses.
Anahad O’connor
©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Oct 19 2009. 08 23 PM IST