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Honey: Remedy for childhood cough

A new study has found that children suffering from night time cough can fare better with a dose of honey than over-the-counter medicines.

Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine found that giving a small dose of buckwheat honey before bedtime can provide better relief from the night time cough and sleep difficulty children face than dextromethorphan (DM), a cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cold medications.

The severity, frequency and bothersome nature of night time cough was found to be considerably reduced with the intake of honey. It also prevented upper respiratory infection better than DM or not giving any treatment at all.

The discovery was particularly noticed after an FDA advisory board cautioned that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children less than 6 years old as they lacked effectiveness and had probable side effects.

Researchers led by Ian Paul, M.D., M.Sc., had in a previous study showed that neither DM nor diphenhydramine, performed better at reducing night time cough or improving the quality of sleep.

They however found that honey, which has been used for centuries in some cultures to treat upper respiratory infection symptoms like cough, and is considered to be safe for children over 12 months old, has well-established antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, and was a great contributor to healing wounds.

Honey also soothes on contact, which may help explain its effect on cough as suggested by the World Health Organization.

In the latest study, the researchers enrolled 105 children between the ages of 2 and 18 at a single university-affiliated physician practice site.

On the first night of the study, children received no treatment. Parents answered five questions about their child’s cough and sleep quality as well as about their own sleep quality.

On the second night, children received either honey, artificial honey-flavoured DM or no treatment about a half hour prior to going to bed. Parents answered the same five questions the following morning.

The randomized study was partially double-blinded: Medical staff did not know what treatment each participating family received when distributing their sealed syringe-containing envelope. Parents of children who received honey or artificial honey-flavored DM in a measured syringe were blinded to their treatment group. Parents of children in the no treatment group received an empty syringe, and therefore were aware of their child’s treatment group.

Across the board, parents rated honey as significantly better than DM or no treatment for symptomatic relief of their child”s nighttime cough and sleep difficulty. In a few cases, parents did report mild side effects with the honey treatment, such as hyperactivity.

“Our study adds to the growing literature questioning the use of DM in children, but it also offers a legitimate and safe alternative for physicians and parents,” said Paul, a paediatrician, researcher and associate professor of paediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Children”s Hospital.

“Additional studies should certainly be considered, but we hope that medical professionals will consider the positive potential of honey as a treatment given the lack of proven efficacy, expense, and potential for adverse effects associated with the use of DM,” he added.

Potentially dangerous effects of DM in young children include dystonic reactions, severe involuntary muscle contractions and spasms. Further, DM is a commonly used as a drug of abuse by adolescents.

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