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Mom Was Right: Honey Can Calm a Cough

2 Teaspoons of Honey Helps Kids With Coughs -- and Parents -- Sleep Through the Night
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 6, 2012 -- Ask any parent: When your little one has a cough, no one gets any sleep. But 2 teaspoons of honey before bedtime may safely relieve your child's coughing and make sure everyone gets their ZZZ's.

That's the main message from a new study in September's issue of Pediatrics.

Today's parents don't have many options to safely treat colds and coughs in their young ones. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines don't work for children younger than 6 years and may pose risks. The FDA takes a similar stance.

In the new study, 270 children aged 1 to 5 with nighttime cough due to simple colds received one of three types of honey or a non-honey liquid of similar taste and consistency 30 minutes before bedtime. Parents completed 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.

Children received either 2 teaspoons of eucalyptus honey, citrus honey, labiatae honey, or similar-tasting silan date extract 30 minutes before bed. All kids did better the second night of the study, including those given the date extract. But children who received honey coughed less frequently, less severely, and were less likely to lose sleep due to the cough when compared to those who didn't get honey. 

Parents of children who were given honey also reported greater improvement in sleep.

Honey Dos and Don'ts

Honey can be part of a supportive care regimen for children with colds, says Alan Rosenbloom, MD. He is a pediatrician in private practice in Baldwin, N.Y.

There are a few caveats, he says. Honey is not appropriate for children younger than 1 because they are at risk for infant botulism. "Never give honey to a kid under the age of 1."

Skip the honey, and call your pediatrician if your child also has:

  • Fever
  • Prolonged, worsening cough
  • Wheezing
  • Cold symptoms that last longer than two weeks

Other ways to help keep your children comfortable when they have a cold and trouble sleeping include use of saline drops or nasal spray, a humidifier in the bedroom to keep the air moist, and propping up the child's head during sleep to stop the postnasal drip that can trigger coughing, he says.

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