August 11, 2012

Honey Helps Relieve Coughing in Kids

Ever since the FDA has withdrawn in 2008 common over-the-counter medications to treat cough in kids, there has been a conundrum among pediatricians and their young patient charges on how to address the cough that occurs with viral upper respiratory infections (common cold). Beyond humidified mist, hydration, vapor baths, saline spray, and sleep, there are still some other effective options to try...

Sore throats (and coughing) can be soothed by swallowing honey straight-up or slightly diluted with warm water with honey to make it easier to swallow. The best time to do this is at bedtime given it will stick around for awhile (eating/drinking will wash away the coating). The purpose of honey is to create a throat barrier to ease the discomfort.

Think of it like chapstick to coat irritated lips, but meant for the throat.

There was a 2007 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine by Hershey Penn State Medical Center revealing the benefit of buckwheat honey to help with pediatric cough. In fact, it was found to work even BETTER than over-the-counter cough suppressants. This study has been picked up by the general news media as well.

In a more recent 2012 study (randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled) comparing 3 different honey products (eucalyptus honey, citrus honey, or labiatae honey) against placebo, the cough improvement was greater in the honey groups for all the main outcome measures. (media report)

Use of honey is also recommended by the World Health Organization which has also published a monogram on viral colds and the various treatments explained. Pay particular close attention to Annex 3 (Page 11) which gives various recipes to treat pediatric cough including the use of honey.

Any further questions or concerns should be directed to your pediatrician. Be aware that honey should not be given to infants less than 1 year old due to risk of botulism.

Of note, the reason why cough syrups were removed from sale in 2008 was because 5 children died from overdoses.

You can purchase buckwheat honey on

Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(12):1140-1146.

Effect of Honey on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. Pediatrics. Published online August 6, 2012 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-3075)

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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