Natural honey is a better remedy for children’s coughs than expensive over-the-counter medicines, researchers said today.
A dose of buckwheat honey before bedtime easily outperformed a cough suppressant widely used in commercial treatments, a US study found.
Dextromethorphan (DM) is the active ingredient in many cough mixtures sold in chemists and supermarkets, including honey-flavoured products.
But the new findings, reported today in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, suggest that parents who buy them might be wasting their money.
Better for sleep
Honey did a better job of reducing the severity, frequency and bothersome nature of night-time cough from upper respiratory infection.
It also had a positive effect on the sleep quality of both children and their parents.
Unlike honey, DM made no significant difference to symptoms compared with offering no treatment at all.
Honey in folk medicine
Honey has been used in folk medicine for centuries not only to treat coughs and bronchitis but to assist the healing of wounds.
For coughs it is often mixed with other natural remedies such as lemon, ginger, and even brandy.
Honey is well known to have antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, which could explain why it is good for wounds. Part of its ability to alleviate coughs may be due to the way it soothes on contact.
Dr Ian Paul, who led the researchers from Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania, said: ‘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.
‘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.’
DM can occasionally cause serious side effects in children, including severe involuntary muscle contractions and spasms, said the researchers. Cases of teenagers using the drug to get 2high2 were also common, they added.
Children in test
Dr Paul’s team recruited 105 children and teenagers with upper respiratory tract infections, aged between two and 18, who were experiencing symptoms during the night.
The study ran over two nights. On the first, none of the participants were given any treatment. On the second, they were divided into groups who received either honey, an artificial honey-flavoured DM medicine, or no treatment about half an hour before bedtime. Parents answered questions about their child’s cough symptoms and sleep quality, as well as their own ability to sleep.
Medical staff were kept in the dark about which treatment each participating family was given.
Overall, parents rated honey as significantly better for the relief of their children’s symptoms than DM or no treatment.
Paired comparisons showed that honey yielded the greatest improvement, followed by DM, while no treatment had the worst outcome. However, the improvement over no treatment seen with DM was not significant.
The Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), which represents makers of over-the-counter medicines, said drug regulators around the world supported the use of non-prescription cough remedies and clinical studies backed the effectiveness of their active ingredients.
It insisted that cough products were ‘both safe and effective’.
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