That’s me (on the right) at my friend Matt’s house, where his colonies of honeybees safely make sweet honey in his backyard. Last summer Matt showed me just what a fascinating hobby beekeeping is. The product of his work (or the bees’ work, actually) can be added not just to food (like Will’s Fruit and Nut Granola) or beverages (like my tea this afternoon) but also used as a safe and effective medicine.

Several studies over several years (as well as clinical experiences) have convinced pediatricians that over-the-counter cold and cough medicines don’t work any better than a placebo (fake “medicine”). Additionally, and especially for children, these commonly marketed and readily available medicines have some potentially dangerous side effects.

Probably the most annoying symptoms of upper respiratory infections (colds) in children is nighttime coughing. Kids don’t sleep and neither do their parents. A new study in JAMA Pediatrics confirms what our triage nurses have been recommending to sleepless parents for years:  try some honey before bedtime. The study compares the efficacy of three different treatments for nighttime cough: Dextromethorphan (DM), the most common non-prescription cough suppressant; sweet and natural honey; and no treatment. And the winner is:

In a comparison of honey, DM, and no treatment, parents rated honey most favorably for symptomatic relief of their child’s nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory tract infection. Honey may be a preferable treatment for the cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infection.

 

Honey seems to work in three different ways. First, thick viscous honey forms a soothing coat (demulcent) over the mucus membranes of the throat, relieving minor pain and inflammation. Second, honey’s sweetness increases saliva production and this can help thin out mucus and lubricate the back of the throat. Finally, honey is rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and flavonoids which help the body’s immune system fight infections.

One thing that is critical to keep in mind:  Because of the risk of infant botulismINFANTS UNDER ONE YEAR OF AGE SHOULD NEVER BE GIVEN HONEY.

 

Previous PediaBlog posts on “The Persistent Cough” here and the use of honey for coughs here.