Honey can ease nighttime coughing in young kids: study
Published Monday, August 6, 2012 2:10PM EDT
When young children develop nagging coughs that keep them awake at night, parents don’t have many options for how to offer them help.
Health Canada no longer recommends over-the-counter cough and cold medicines for children younger than six years, saying there is no evidence the syrups work -- and the risks of overdoses and side effects are too high.
But now a new study published in Pediatrics backs up what many grandparents have long recommended: a spoonful of honey before bedtime can safely relieve coughing.
The randomized controlled trial involved 270 children in Israel, aged one to five, who had developed a nighttime cough due to the common cold. The parents were advised to give the children a teaspoon of one of three types of honey 30 minutes before bedtime, or a placebo liquid of similar taste and consistency.
The three types of honey were: eucalyptus honey, citrus honey or libiatae honey. The placebo syrup was made with silan date extract.
The parents were asked to complete questionnaires about their child's cough and sleep on the night before the study began and then again the night after their kids were treated. Parents rated each of the symptoms on a seven-point scale.
All of the children showed an improvement in sleep quality and coughing severity, perhaps because of the short duration of cough from colds. But the researchers found that those children who received honey fared better than those who consumed the non-honey extract.
Cough symptoms and sleep scores fell by an average of two points in the children who were given the honey, compared to a one-point drop after the date syrup.
The authors concluded that honey might be a "preferable treatment" to relieve the kinds of symptoms of upper respiratory infections.
“Parents rated the honey products higher than the silan date extract for symptomatic relief of their children’s nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to URI (upper respiratory infection),” the authors wrote.
“Honey may be a preferable treatment for cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood URI.”
It’s important to note that babies under the age of one shouldn’t be given honey, because it has been associated with infant botulism, which can be life-threatening.
The study was partially funded by the Honey Board of Israel.
A similar study was published in 2007 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. That study found that a small dose of buckwheat honey provided better relief of nighttime cough and sleep difficulty in children compared to no treatment, or to dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cold medications.
The lead author of that study, Dr. Ian Paul, an associate professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine, noted that honey might be effective for calming coughs because it has high levels of antioxidants and has antimicrobial effects.
Honey’s syrupy quality may also be soothing to the throat, he said. Sweet liquids cause salivation, which can thin mucous in the mouth and throat, and lubricate the upper airway.
That study was funded by a grant from the National Honey Board, an industry-funded agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency had no influence over the study design, data or results, Paul said.