Herbal Medicine in Children With Respiratory Tract Infection: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Acad Pediatr. Jan-Feb 2018;18(1):8-19. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2017.06.006. Epub 2017 Jun 10.


Background: Herbal medicines are particularly regarded as an alternative or complement to conventional pharmaceuticals in the treatment and prevention of respiratory tract infections (RTIs). Therefore, the purpose of this review was to identify evidence for herbal therapy in the treatment of RTIs concerning effectiveness and safety.

Methods: Medline/PubMed, Scopus, and the Cochrane Library were searched through February 12, 2015. Randomized controlled trials that compared herbal therapy with no treatment, placebo, or any pharmaceutical medication in children and adolescents (age 0 to 18 years) with RTI were eligible.

Results: Eleven trials with 2181 participants were included. No clear evidence for Echinacea (4 trials) or an herbal compound preparation (1 trial) in preventing RTI symptoms was found. Meta-analysis revealed evidence for efficacy (responder rates: risk ratio [RR], 2.56; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.54-4.26; P < .01; heterogeneity: I2 = 38%; chi-square = 9.63; P = .14) and safety (patients with adverse events: RR, 1.06; 95% CI, 0.42-2.66; P = .9; heterogeneity: I2 = 72%; chi-square = 10.64; P = .01) of Pelargonium sidoides in treating RTI symptoms compared with placebo (6 trials).

Conclusions: Because of conflicting evidence in the included studies no concrete conclusion on effects of Echinacea could be drawn so far. In the case of Pelargonium sidoides, meta-analysis revealed moderate evidence for efficacy and safety in the treatment of RTIs in children.

Keywords: adolescent; child; complementary therapies; infant; medicinal; meta-analysis; newborn; phytotherapy; plant extracts; plants; respiratory tract infection; review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Echinacea*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pelargonium*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / drug therapy*


  • Plant Extracts
  • Plant Preparations