Got A Coughing Kid? Try Honey

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
boy coughing
Scary Mommy and CSA Images/Getty

I’m pretty sure there is nothing more irritating, sad, worrisome, and downright disruptive than a child with a nagging cough. The thing about children and coughs is that they can drag on foreverrrr—sometimes for several weeks even after the initial infection is gone. And forget about nighttime coughing. If you have a child who is up at night coughing, no one in your entire house is going to get a wink of sleep. It’s a freaking nightmare.

RELATED: Here’s What Each Type Of Your Baby’s Cough Tells You About Their Health

But maybe the worst aspect of having a coughing kid is that there isn’t much you can do to make things better. First of all, you can’t give over-the-counter cough medication to kids under four. As the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) describes it, giving cold and cough medications to kids under four years old carries the risk of “dangerous side effects.”

Not only that, even if your child is old enough to take OTC cough meds, they don’t often work. I remember trying to force my up-all-night-coughing five-year-old to take this slimy yellow cough syrup that he hated. I gave up after three nights—not only because the stuff made him gag, but because it wasn’t doing a damn thing to help his coughing.

So what’s a desperate and abysmally exhausted parent supposed to do? Well, according to a new article in NPR, the answer to quieting a kid’s nagging cough might be a simple, natural solution found right in your kitchen cabinet. Yep, experts are recommending honey as the perfect antidote to coughs. (Important note: honey should never be given to children under the age of one.)


“Honey is at least as effective as those many, many products that you see in the drugstore,” Dr. Bud Wiedermann, infectious disease specialist at Children’s National Hospital, told NPR.

Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, concurs.

“Honey has some natural antibacterial and antiviral properties,” Shu told NPR. “It contains hydrogen peroxide, so there is a theory that that’s why it might help fight a cold. But also the thickness of it helps coat the throat and makes it feel more comfortable so you don’t have that dry, ticklish feeling that’s causing your cough.”

Dr. Shu not only says that honey is a really good and effective option for children, but that it’s actually better than most OTC cough syrups.g

She believes that to some extent, the marketing of cough medicines for kids is all hype. Not only can they have dangerous side-effects (spiking blood pressure and increasing heart rate, for example), but they just don’t really work.

“What the studies have shown is that — for some reason — in kids [cough medicines] aren’t that effective,” Dr. Shu said.

For example, NPR cites a 2007 study published in JAMA Pediatrics which found that honey is more effective for coughs than the OTC cough medicine dextromethorphan (DM), and can even help with those nagging nighttime coughs.

“Significant differences in symptom improvement were detected between treatment groups, with honey consistently scoring the best and no treatment scoring the worst,” wrote the study researchers.

The researchers concluded that “[h]oney may be a preferable treatment for the cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infection.”

Pretty awesome, right? And you know what else? Honey is something that my kids will never say no to. Plus, it’s cheap and 100% natural. Win-win.

So how do you use honey to treat kids’ coughs? The Academy of American Pediatrics has some simple guidelines to follow:

– First of all, never ever given honey to a baby under the age of one, because of the risk of botulism, which can be deadly.

– Kids aged one through five can take about half a teaspoon of honey for coughs.

– Kids aged six to eleven can try one teaspoon.

– For kids 12 or older, two teaspoons may do the trick.

The AAP reminds parents that you’ve got to brush your kid’s teeth after giving honey at night, to prevent cavities.

These are just guidelines, and the good thing about treating coughs with something that is a common food is that you can safely adjust the dosing based on your child’s needs and how they respond. Though obviously, giving your kids a shit-ton of honey (which is high AF in sugar) is probably not a great idea, unless you want them to be bouncing off the walls all day and night.

Besides honey, other natural and effective things you can try, according the the AAP, include humidifiers, nose drops or sprays (to clear out the snot), and mentholated rubs (like Vicks). Of course, if your child’s cough is more than just a nagging cough, and they have other symptoms such as fever or shortness of breath, you should contact your pediatrician right away for further guidance.

Thankfully (knock on every piece of wood in my house), I personally haven’t had to deal with a very annoying cough yet this season. But if I do, I am definitely going to be whipping out the honey. I have a feeling my (medicine-hating, sugar-obsessed) kids will thank me too.

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