A Spoonful of Honey – Treating Children’s Coughs

By Tucson Medical Center 

‘Tis the season, coughs and snotty noses abound. A nasty cold or cough is uncomfortable for all, but for infants and very young children, unable to express themselves or understand what is happening, it can be particularly difficult. Before you go out and get an over-the-counter medication to soothe your child’s throat be aware of the warnings against using over the counter cough and cold medications. 

In 2007, a number of children’s cough medications were withdrawn from the market. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advised parents and physicians not to give young children cough and cold syrups. 

A growing body of evidence suggested that non-prescription medications for cough and cold actually did little to aid recovery. These medications also pose risks with regard to a rare adverse reaction due to unintentional overdosing. The Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory recommending that parents do not give these products to children under the age of 2 because of the risk of serious and potentially life-threatening side effects. 

What to do when we want to ease our children’s discomfort? 

(Information posted here does not constitute medical advice and should not be used to replace seeking a health care professional’s expert advice.) 

It is important to understand that most coughs and colds are the result of contracting a virus and do not respond to antibiotics. Inappropriate use of antibiotics can result in an allergic reaction or antibiotic side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and yeast infections. Antibiotics may also kill beneficial bacteria and encourage the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The best way to treat cold and coughs is with prevention.  Teaching and modeling proper and frequent hand-washing is important. See this post on RSV for more prevention tips. 

Here are several suggestions: 

Honey and lemon: A favorite in our home, among those over one year old, is a cup of hot water with honey and lemon slices. There have been multiple studies that have shown that honey is effective in easing a cough (1). 

Honey is not to be given to children under one year of age as it carries a risk of infant botulism which can be life-threatening. 

Fluids: You can also encourage your child to drink more fluids. Being hydrated whether by broths, water, or juices helps loosen the mucus, making it easier for your child to cough or blow their nose. Another plus of keeping hydrated – liquids can sooth an irritated throat. 

Positioning: Elevating your child’s head while they sleep can ease a cough. 

Saline and suction: If your child is having trouble breathing or drinking because of nasal congestion, you can clear their nasal passages with a little saline solution drops or spray followed by the proper use of a suction bulb. (2) 

Moisture: Close the bathroom door, run the shower to get the bathroom steamy and then sit with your child in the bathroom. (Young children should not be left in any room with standing water that they can access.) The moist air can help clear upper respiratory passages. 

(1) Warren, M.D., Pont, S.J., Barkin, S.L., Callahan, S.T., Caples, T.L, Carroll, K.N., Plemmons, G.S., Swan, R.R., Cooper, W.O., “The Effect of Honey on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Children and Their Parents” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 2007;161 (12): 1149-1153 Accessed 12-7-2011. 

(2) “Child and Colds, Healthy Children Blog,” American Academy of Pediatrics Accessed 12-7-2011. 

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