|An analysis of cold medications
||[Dec. 26th, 2010|06:08 pm]
I find common cold medications rather interesting. There is of course no "cure," or even a way to shorten the duration of the illness. On the other hand, there are a variety of symptom-relief strategies with varying effectiveness. This has led to a plethora of drugs on the market; this page lists "154 widely used nonprescription cold remedies" (!) along with their ingredients.
I cleaned up the spelling and formatting errors in that list and wrote a script to make a histogram showing how many different products each ingredient occurs in, color-coded by category.
Ingredient vs. number of products.
Click image to embiggen
Why did I do it? Simply because I could. It might also be because I get colds a lot and making this chart porn gives me a feeling of being sort of in control, which is an altogether different kind of placebo.
Here are some observations:
The raw data is here. I can imagine doing other (equally useless) things with it, such as looking at which ingredients occur together. Finally, in case it needs saying, I'm not a doctor and am in no way qualified to give medical advice; this is just a pretty chart and nothing more.
- There are 6 major categories: antitussives, decongestants, antihistamines, analgestics/antipyretics, expectorants and local anesthetics.
- There are about 40 different ingredients. The chart shows the ones that occur at least 3 times, which is 27 of them.
- While I've listed "belladonna alkaloids" under "bogus" (yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of alternative medicine), I'm sure many others on the chart are equally ineffective. I don't know which ones. The studies are typically inconclusive.
- Many ingredients have multiple effects (for example, most of the decongestants are also stimulants). I had to make guesses at which effect is relevant to cold symptom relief, although in most cases it is obvious.
- There are an average of 2.5 ingredients per product (this is a separate analysis, not from the chart). Most have 1-4 ingredients but a couple have as many as 6.