A Sweet, Safe Alternative to Kids’ Cough Medicine
December 13, 2007—Recent concerns raised about the safety of cough and cold medicines have led parents and healthcare professionals to seek other ways to soothe children’s symptoms. A new study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine suggests that honey may be a safe alternative for easing a child’s cough and improving sleep difficulties caused by upper respiratory tract infections.
In this study, 105 children with upper respiratory tract infections were randomly assigned to receive one of the following: a single dose of buckwheat honey, a single dose of honey-flavored dextromethorphan, or no treatment. The children received their treatment for one night only, 30 minutes before bedtime. Results of the study showed that children who received the buckwheat honey experienced significant improvement in cough frequency and sleep difficulties, which was superior to the results in the other two groups.
Ian Paul, MD, M.Sc, lead author of the study and the director of the Pediatric Clinical Research Office at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, says that the commonly used over-the-counter cough and cold remedies “have not been shown to be better than a placebo and have the potential for side effects. Therefore, I do not recommend their use for children.”
Honey has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties as well as demulcent activity that can soothe irritated mucous membranes. Though it does not harm older children or adults, honey can contain bacteria that causes botulism in infants, so babies under 12 months old should not be given honey.
“Colds are self-limited illnesses, but their symptoms can be annoying and frustrating,” said Dr. Paul. So though a cold will naturally run its course, for those parents who want to relieve their children’s uncomfortable symptoms, Dr. Paul recommends that they do the following:
- Give nonaspirin pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Use saline nose drops or spray to thin mucus
- Use humidified air to moisten the airway
- Have the child drink plenty of fluids
- For children over a year old, honey may be a useful addition for cough and cold symptoms as well as for the sleep difficulty that accompanies an annoying cough
“Parents should consider honey as an option for treating cough and cold symptoms in children over age one year,” said Dr. Paul. However, any child who suffers from a persistent cough should be seen by a physician. Parents should discuss the appropriate treatments for their child’s symptoms with their physician.
(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2007;161:1140–46)
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Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.
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