A spoonful of honey can quiet children's nighttime cough and help them - and their parents - sleep better, a new study shows. When compared to the cough syrup ingredient dextromethorphan or no treatment, honey came out on top.
"The results were so strong that we were able to say clearly that honey was better than no treatment and dextromethorphan was not," Dr. Ian M. Paul of Pennsylvania State University in Hershey, one of the study's authors, told Reuters Health.
There is currently no proven effective treatment for cough due to an upper respiratory infection like the common cold. While dextromethorphan is widely used, there is no evidence that it works, and it carries risks. Honey is used around the world as a folk remedy for cough, and might provide a safe, effective alternative to cough medicine, Paul and his colleagues note in the
Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine
To investigate, they compared buckwheat honey, a honey-flavored dextromethorphan preparation, and no treatment in 105 children who had sought treatment for nighttime coughs due to colds.
Parents were surveyed on the day of the doctor's visit and on the next day, after those in the treatment groups had given their kids honey or dextromethorphan at bedtime. Among the three groups, children given honey had the greatest reduction in cough frequency and severity, and the most improved sleep, as did their parents.
There are several explanations for why honey might ease cough, Paul and his team note; its sweet, syrupy quality may be soothing to the throat, while its high antioxidant content could also be a factor. Honey also has antimicrobial effects. Honey isn't recommended for infants younger than one year old, because of the rare but serious risk it might cause a type of food poisoning known as botulism, Paul said in an interview.
For older kids, however, it is generally safe. He and his colleagues used a dosage identical to that recommended for cough syrups: half a teaspoon for two- to five-year-olds, a teaspoon for six- to eleven-year-olds, and two teaspoons for children twelve and older.
"The study offers an interesting alternative to traditional over-the-counter remedies for cough in children," Dr. Michael Warren of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee and colleagues conclude in a commentary accompanying the study. SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, December 2007.