Anti-cough medicine, inhalations … Beware of these so-called advice

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A cough syrup (illustration). – Pixabay

  • The premature disappearance of 16-year-old Laura, a teenage girl with no medical history but who died from the coronavirus, made an impression.
  • A viral message posted on Facebook alerted her to an “explosive cocktail” – based on inhalations and an anti-cough medicine – which she had used and which would have aggravated her case.
  • This text, however, mixes reliable recommendations – on anti-inflammatory drugs, to be avoided – and baseless or imprecise recommendations. 20 minutes make the point.

While the coronavirus epidemic has, at this point,
at least 3,024 dead in France, one death in particular marked the spirits: that of Julie,
a 16-year-old girl who succumbed to the disease when she had no medical history.

And her death gives rise, on social networks, to the dissemination of so-called medical advice in the form of a message particularly relayed for a few days: “Everyone wonders how a young sportswoman of 16 years could succumb to the Covid virus -19, and there I just heard on the BFM-TV antenna that Julie had taken a cough suppressant from the start of the symptoms [un médicament anti-toux] and had also done inhalations! ”

The message of
Message from – screenshot / Facebook

“Unfortunately, it was an explosive cocktail that allowed the virus to reach the lungs of this young girl in the shortest possible time, with the outcome that everyone knows! So let me remind everyone that there are three rules to be followed imperatively in the presence of Covid-19: do not take a cough suppressant, do not take inhalations, do not take anti-inflammatory drugs ( eg Ibuprofen) “, continues the text, before concluding with a call to” turn the news “.


At the end of a sentence, the AFP dispatch announcing the disappearance of Julie, taken up by many media, mentioned in effect “a small cough of mild appearance appeared a week ago, which she [Julie] had tried to cure with syrup, plants, inhalations. “

But, as is often the case, there is mistrust with unsourced messages relayed on social networks by simple word of mouth, a fortiori when they contain medical advice.

Contacted by 20 minutes, Mathieu Molimard, pharmacologist and pulmonologist, member of the scientific council of the site of the French Society of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (SFPT), thus recalls a crucial reflex: If there was only one recommendation to keep, it would be to go to the reliable drug information sites. And in this case on the SFPT website, mobilized for fifteen days to answer questions received on drugs and treatments, each answer being validated by three experts. “

The special section of the SFPT site dedicated to Covid-19 answers many questions, very specific – “I am asthmatic on seretide (fluticasone, salmeterol). Should I stop the treatment? “- to the more general -” Are there currently studies in progress to test drugs against the coronavirus? “

And there is in particular an answer about the use of cough suppressants, which differentiates three specific cases: “Coughing is a natural defense reflex, which we must try to keep as much as possible, because it cleans the bronchi. Its causes can be multiple. If you already have breathing problems or asthma, avoid cough suppressants as they can be aggravating. They should also be avoided if you have a cough with sputum because it will prevent them from going out so it is aggravating. Finally, if it is an irritative cough, the less we take, the better we are, but we can use it in the doses and the prescribed duration if the cough prevents us from sleeping for example, “summarizes Mathieu Molimard .

Cough suppressants are “currently not known to worsen symptoms of Covid-19”

“The pharmacovigilance centers have not heard of any worsening of the condition of patients suffering from Covid-19 symptoms after taking the antitussive,” continues the pharmacologist. In case of symptoms related to the coronavirus, the priority is to contact your doctor. And we invite you to report any adverse drug reaction to the regional pharmacovigilance center concerned, ”adds Mathieu Molimard, who recalls that their contact details are available online on a map.

In addition, the site “Covid19-Medicines”, which allows everyone to check if drugs are prohibited in case of symptoms of Covid-19, indicates well, about the different cough syrups recorded in its database , that they are “currently unknown[s] to make symptoms of Covid-19 worse. “

Anti-inflammatory drugs should be avoided

On the other hand, the use of anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen is strongly discouraged, as the government points out in its information page on the coronavirus: “In general, self-medication with anti-inflammatory drugs must be proscribed. In addition, it appears that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be a factor in worsening the infection. Thus, in the case of a COVID-19 coronavirus infection, paracetamol is recommended. “

Finally, what about the “inhalations” mentioned in the viral message? If the text refers to inhalations of water vapor – supposedly medical advice having recommended to use it to “kill” the coronavirus -, this practice may indeed do more harm than good, as the explained to our colleagues at AFP Factuel doctor Benjamin Neuman, coronavirus specialist at Texas A&M University: “Hot steam can damage the lungs. The idea that it can fight a virus that also damages the lungs is very bad advice. ”

Special recommendations for aerosol inhalations (to avoid contamination)

“If these inhalations refer to aerosol drugs used in people with respiratory failure, the French-language Pneumology Society (SPLF) has issued recommendations on this subject, recommending to avoid their use if they can be replaced by a system of other inhalation or do them alone in a room because they can cause a cough and contaminate the ambient air if the patient is a Covid-19 carrier, ”concludes Mathieu Molimard.

The SPLF thus recommends “to use as a first intention, instead of nebulization, ready-to-use inhalers such as pressurized metered dose inhaler (pMDI) and powder metered dose inhaler (DPI)”.


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