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Honey: One Alternative for Kids Cough

By Jane Hart, MD

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 kids 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 kids 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

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.


Copyright © 2010 Aisle7. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Aisle7® content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Aisle7. Healthnotes Newsletter is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Aisle7 shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. AISLE7 is a registered trademark of Aisle7 in the United States and other jurisdictions. 

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