Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the common cold

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 4;(6):CD006362. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006362.pub3.


Background: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have been widely used for the treatment of pain and fever associated with the common cold. However, there is no systematic review to assess the effects of NSAIDs in treating the common cold.

Objectives: To determine the effects of NSAIDs versus placebo (and other treatments) on signs and symptoms of the common cold, and to determine any adverse effects of NSAIDs in people with the common cold.

Search methods: We searched CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2013, Issue 1), MEDLINE (January 1966 to April week 4, 2013), EMBASE (January 1980 to April 2013), CINAHL (January 1982 to April 2013) and ProQuest Digital Dissertations (January 1938 to April 2013).

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of NSAIDS in adults or children with the common cold.

Data collection and analysis: Four review authors extracted data. We subdivided trials into placebo-controlled RCTs and head-to-head comparisons of NSAIDs. We extracted and summarised data on global efficacies of analgesic effects (such as reduction of headache and myalgia), non-analgesic effects (such as reduction of nasal symptoms, cough, sputum and sneezing) and side effects. We expressed dichotomous outcomes as risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) and continuous data as mean differences (MD) or standardised mean differences (SMD). We pooled data using the fixed- and random-effects models.

Main results: We included nine RCTs with 1069 participants, describing 37 comparisons: six were NSAIDs versus placebo and three were NSAIDs versus NSAIDs. The overall risk of bias in the included studies was mixed. In a pooled analysis, NSAIDs did not significantly reduce the total symptom score (SMD -0.40, 95% CI -1.03 to 0.24, three studies, random-effects model), or duration of colds (MD -0.23, 95% CI -1.75 to 1.29, two studies, random-effects model). For respiratory symptoms, cough did not improve (SMD -0.05, 95% CI -0.66 to 0.56, two studies, random-effects model) but the sneezing score significantly improved (SMD -0.44, 95% CI -0.75 to -0.12, two studies, random-effects model). For outcomes related to the analgesic effects of NSAIDs (headache, ear pain, and muscle and joint pain) the treatment produced significant benefits. The risk of adverse effects was not high with NSAIDs (RR 2.94, 95% CI 0.51 to 17.03, two studies, random-effects model) and it is difficult to conclude that such drugs are not different from placebo.

Authors' conclusions: NSAIDs are somewhat effective in relieving discomfort caused by a cold but there is no clear evidence of their effect in easing respiratory symptoms. The balance of benefit and harms needs to be considered when using NSAIDs for colds.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Chills / drug therapy
  • Common Cold / complications
  • Common Cold / drug therapy*
  • Cough / drug therapy
  • Headache Disorders, Secondary / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal