By Roy Benaroch, MD
We’ve known for years that over-the-counter cough remedies aren’t very effective, especially in children. Still, it sure would be nice to have some way to help coughing kids. A new study adds to the evidence supporting an older, safe remedy for children past 12 months of age: honey.
Researchers in Israel looked at 300 children from age 1-5 with ordinary coughs—coughs caused by viral respiratory colds. Some of the kids were given different preparations of honey, while others in a comparison group were given a syrup sweetened without honey. The families of children given a teaspoon of honey at bedtime were reported to have the best improvements in coughing. A previous study published in 2007 compared honey with dextromethorphan, the most common OTC cough remedy, and found that natural buckwheat honey was more effective than medicine for coughing.
Why would honey work? It’s soothing, tastes good, and may trigger increased salivation to lubricate the upper airway. It also contains antioxidants, vitamins, and chemicals called “flavenoids” that may have infection-fighting properties.
Honey is far safer than OTC cold and cough remedies, which do have side effects. However, honey should never been given to children less than one year of age because it can transmit botulism to young babies.
Some coughs, like those caused by asthma or lung disease, need to be treated with specific medicines. But most coughs in children are caused by viruses or “chest colds.” These will improve on their own and don’t need medicine—but it’s good to know that there’s a safe and effective remedy to help your child feel better while he’s fighting off a cough.