HealthDay News — Giving young children honey to soothe a cough that is keeping them up at night may provide effective URI symptom relief, study results suggest.

A single dose of three different types of honey improved a number of subjective outcomes, including cough frequency, among children mean age 2.5 years with upper respiratory infections (URIs), Herman Avner Cohen, MD, from the Pediatric Ambulatory Community Clinic in Petach Tikya, Israel, and colleagues reported in Pediatrics

“Honey may be a preferable treatment of cough and sleep difficulties associated with childhood URI,” the researchers wrote. However, they warned that honey should not be administered to infants due to the risk for infantile botulism.

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Because many over-the-counter treatments for cough and cold symptoms available in the United States are not recommended for use in children aged younger than 4 years, home and herbal remedies are popular despite limited scientific evidence to support their use.

Although WHO currently lists honey as a potential treatment for young children with cough attributable to URI, only two studies have shown symptom benefits —  one which only evaluated buckwheat honey and another which was not blinded.

To further evaluate the benefits of honey Cohen and colleagues randomly assigned 300 children aged 1 to 5 years with URI, nocturnal cough and an illness duration of seven days or less to receive a single 10 g dose of either eucalyptus honey, citrus honey, labiatae honey or silan date extract placebo.

Participant’s parents completed surveys that included questions about cough frequency, cough severity, the bothersome nature of the cough and child and parent sleep quality on the day of URI presentation, when no medication had been given the previous evening, and the day after treatment was administered at bedtime. Each measure was rated on a seven-point Likert scale.

Symptoms improved significantly the night following treatment for each of the three honey products and placebo, which the researchers noted could be due to the natural course of URIs; however, improvements were largest in each of the honey groups for all outcomes. 

Cough frequency improved by 1.77 to 1.95 points in the honey groups compared with 1.00 point in the placebo group (P<0.001). Combining all outcomes, total improvements were 9.88 points with eucalyptus honey, 10.10 points for citrus honey and 9.51 points for labiatae honey, compared with an overall improvement of 5.82-points with the date extract placebo (P<0.001).

The most common adverse events  were stomach ache, nausea and vomiting, with two cases reported in the citrus honey group and one case reported in the other two honey groups and the placebo group.

The researchers noted that dropout rates were higher among children in the eucalyptus and citrus honey groups, possibly because these substances are more aromatic, which the children may not have liked.

Study limitations include measuring outcomes after just a single dose, the subjective nature of outcome assessment and inability to verify compliance with treatment administration. The Honey Board of Israel provided partial study funding.

Cohen H et al. Pediatrics. 2012; doi:10.1542/peds.2011-3075.