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Honey: One Alternative for Kids' Cough

Honey: One Alternative for Kids' Cough: Main Image
Half a teaspoon of honey before bedtime was superior in relieving kids' nighttime cough symptoms and improving sleep quality for both kids and parents
As kids go back to school, the season for colds and cough kicks in as well. But there is good news for easing kids' cough as a new study in The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows that household honey may be superior to some over-the-counter medications for easing kids' nighttime cough and for helping kids and parents get a good night's sleep.

Honey relieves nighttime cough

Children are more susceptible than adults to upper respiratory infections, and the average child may experience several each year. Nagging symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, and cough often accompany such infections, but experts point out that most over-the-counter cough medications have not been proven to be particularly effective for kid's cough, which, paired with questions that have been raised in recent years about whether they are safe for small children, make alternatives welcome news.

In this study, 139 children ages 24 months to 60 months with an upper respiratory infection were randomly assigned to one of four treatments before bed: honey, dextromethorphan (a common cough suppressant), diphenhydramine (an antihistamine), or normal parental care only. Before the intervention and 24 hours after, mothers of the children filled out a questionnaire with questions about the child's cough frequency and severity, and the sleep quality of both kids and parents. Results showed:

  • Half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of honey before bedtime was superior in relieving kids' nighttime cough symptoms and improving sleep quality for both kids and parents compared with either of the two medication groups or supportive-care-only group.
  • Dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine were also found to have relieving effects on cough and sleep and were more effective than the control group.

The study authors comment that their study confirms prior findings that have shown the beneficial effects of honey on nighttime cough. Chief Science Editor Alan Gaby, MD, of Aisle7 comments, "Parents should remember that when a child has an upper respiratory infection, coughing is a normal and needed mechanism for clearing infection from the body. For those times when kids need relief from coughing honey may be a less expensive and safer option for children compared to some over-the-counter medications."

Tips about honey and kid's cough

Honey is one alternative for parents who are concerned about the safety or effectiveness of over-the-counter medications for their kids' upper respiratory symptoms. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some tips about using honey for kids' cough:
  • Honey should not be used in babies under one year of age but can be a useful remedy for children after age one.
  • Honey may help thin secretions and loosen a cough.
  • Over-the-counter cough medications are not generally recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics because of the lack of proven benefit in children and because the FDA has not approved these medications for children under 4 years old.

Any child who experiences a persistent cough should be seen by a physician who can advise parents about the appropriate treatment options.

(J Alt Comp Med 2010;16:787-93)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.
 
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