December 14, 2007

Age-old remedy cuts kids’ coughs

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Claire Hendry, 5, of Franklin, Tenn., watches as her mother pours a spoonful of honey before bedtime. (photo by Neil Brake)

Age-old remedy cuts kids’ coughs

According to experts at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, a recent study may have discovered an intriguing option to help quiet children's coughs.

The study, from Pennsylvania State University researcher, Ian Paul, M.D., showed that honey has some benefit in reducing cough symptoms.

Michael Warren, M.D., a clinical fellow in the Division of General Pediatrics, along with Division colleagues, reviewed the research and wrote an Evidence-Based Journal Club review which appeared alongside the Penn State study in the December issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“Dr. Paul's study represents a welcome addition to the literature on cough medications in children,” said Warren.

“During the cough and cold season, pediatricians are bombarded with questions from parents who want to know what they can to do to relieve their child’s cold symptoms.”

Warren and his colleagues combed through the Penn State article and found it was well-designed and that the results could be considered reliable.

The results were that children who are given honey at bedtime had a 47.3 percent reduction in cough symptoms, while a honey-flavored syrup containing a common over-the-counter cough suppressant, dextromethorphan (DM), had just slightly more effect than no treatment at all.

“We found there are some lingering questions,” Warren said. “It is unclear whether the benefits of honey are variety-specific. This study used buckwheat honey; the authors note that darker honeys (such as buckwheat honey) consist of more phenolic compounds than other varieties and that the associated antioxidant effect might have contributed to the improvement seen in those children treated with this kind of honey.”

Upper respiratory infections are the most common complaint at pediatric offices this time of the year.

Since an FDA panel reviewed the safety and efficacy of over-the-counter cough medications earlier this year and determined they pose more risk than benefit to children under age 6, parents have been anxious to hear about other things to try.

“When children have a cold, everyone is miserable —the cough bothers the child, the child can't sleep, and the parents can't sleep.

“Parents are often desperate for the 'magic bullet' that will make the symptoms go away. Supportive care like nasal saline sprays/drops, bulb suctioning, cool mist humidifiers, fever-reducing medications, fluids, and rest are the mainstays of therapy for children with cough and cold symptoms,” Warren said.

At least, Warren says, this new research shows that when desperation sets in, it’s reasonable to try a teaspoon of honey.