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Honey Beats Meds at Soothing Kids' Cough

TUESDAY Dec. 4, 2007 -- With many children's cough syrups being pulled from the market because they don't work, an old folk remedy -- honey -- may work just as well or better, researchers report.

In a study of kids having trouble sleeping because of cough, a research team at Penn State College of Medicine compared the effectiveness of a little bit of buckwheat honey before bedtime versus either no treatment or dextromethorphan (DM), the cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cold medicines.

"Honey provided the greatest relief of symptoms compared with the other treatments," concluded lead researcher Dr. Ian Paul, Penn State's director of pediatric clinical research.

An FDA advisory board recently recommended that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines not be given to children under 6 years of age because of a lack of effectiveness and potential for side effects.

"With honey, parents now have a safe and effective alternative to use for children over age 1 who have cough and cold symptoms," Paul said.

Paul cautioned that honey should never be given to children younger than 1, because of the rare risk of infantile botulism. In addition, he noted, cough medicines that mention "honey" on the label actually contain artificial honey flavor.

In the study, 105 children ages 2 to 18 were given either honey, artificial honey-flavored DM or no treatment about a half-hour before bedtime, according to the report in the December issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Paul's group found that honey was more effective in reducing the severity and frequency of nighttime cough compared with DM or no treatment. Honey also allowed the children to sleep.

Moreover, DM was not much better at reducing cough than no treatment, the researchers found.

Paul's team used a dark honey in their trial. Whether other honeys would be equally effective is not known, Paul said.

Some of the children were hyperactive for a short time after being given the honey, Paul said. However, children who received honey slept better and so did their parents, the researcher noted.

Honey has been used for centuries to treat upper respiratory infection symptoms such as cough. In addition, honey has antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, and also soothes the back of the throat, Paul noted. "The World Health Organization has cited honey as a potential therapy," he said.

Charlotte Jordan, a project manager of research at the National Honey Board, believes the finding confirms what your grandmother told you.

"This is a really exciting finding," she said. "For a long time it's been folklore medicine to use honey when you have a cough or a cold, but it's exciting to have a scientific study to back that up."

More information

For more information on children's cough, visit the Nemours Foundation.

Posted: December 2007


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