Does honey work as a treatment for cough in children?

There are any number of home remedies for treating a child who is coughing.   Usually, these include an old family secret concocted by a grandmother who believes in its effectiveness to cure a nagging cough that comes along with an upper respiratory infection (URI).

One such natural remedy for cough is honey.  Honey is a natural sweet substance that is revered not only for its taste, but also its antioxidant and antimicrobial effects.

Rule of thumb – the darker the honey, the more antioxidants it contains.

Never give honey to an infant who is less than 1 year old due to the risk for infection with infant botulism (a serious bacterial infection).

In a 2012 study by Cohen, et al. published in the Journal of Pediatrics, children (aged 1-5 years) who had symptoms of cough and runny nose were given 10 grams (about 1 teaspoon) of honey 30 minutes prior to sleep.  Parents reported a significant improvement in their child’s cough the night they were given honey vs. the previous night where no treatment was given.

Honey should only be used on a short-term basis for the treatment of cough

In numerous studies, honey has been found to improve the nighttime symptoms of cough in children.  This allows a restful night sleep for the child and his/her parents.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed honey as a potential treatment of cough and cold symptoms.

What about over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines?

OTC cough medications often contain one or more of the ingredients pseudoephedrine, diphenhydramine, or dextromethrophan.  These medications, while widely used in adults, have the potential for serious side effects in young children due to their risk of overdosing.

In a study by Paul, et al. honey scored better than dextromethorphan (ingredient in Robitussin®, Pediacare®, & Delsym®) for the treatment of cough in children aged 2-18 years. In this same study, dextromethrophan was not better than giving no treatment at all.

The FDA recommends against the use of OTC cough and cold medications in kids less than 2 years old. These medications should be used with caution in children 2-11 years old.

Children who have worsening cough lasting for more than 4-5 days with or without runny nose, fever, or other common cold symptoms should be evaluated by a physician.

Never start a new medication or natural remedy for the treatment of cough or other symptoms without first consulting with your physician.

Remember: Never give honey to an infant who is less than 1 year old.

Follow us on Twitter for article updates and pediatric news:  @Peds_doc