How Honey May Help Your Cough

Using honey for a cough won't get rid of it entirely, but there is some evidence that a single dose given at bedtime may suppress a cough in young children. Honey coats the throat and soothes irritated mucus membranes, calming a cough and easing related symptoms.

In fact, some studies suggest that honey may be just as effective in relieving nighttime coughs in kids as the drug dextromethorphan, which is found in cough syrups like Children's Robitussin and Delsym Children's Cough Suppressant.

Honey is a time-honored remedy to treat sore throats and coughs in kids and adults. It can be given by the teaspoon or swirled into a cup of tea or warm lemon water.

This article explains if honey for coughs is the right choice for your child, what the research says, and why it must be avoided in children under 1 year of age.

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Supporting Research

A 2010 study tested the effects of honey along with cough medicine (dextromethorphan) and antihistamine (diphenhydramine) on nightly coughing due to upper respiratory infection in 139 children. It found that honey had the greatest symptom relief for coughing than both medicines.

Another study in 2012 tested three types of honey (eucalyptus, citrus, and labiatae) on coughs caused by upper respiratory tract infections. The researchers found that all three types of honey were better than the placebo in relieving cough frequency and severity.

Children and their parents also reported a better night sleep with the honey than they did with the placebo. 

Who Can Use It

Honey may be used along with other cough remedies or solo. Aside from the fact that it's easy to find and inexpensive, it's a remedy that doesn't pose any risk of drug interaction (as might be a concern with some over-the-counter medications used for the same purpose).

Aside from having an allergy to honey or swallowing difficulties, virtually any adult can use honey to ease a cough. However, honey should never be given to babies younger than 12 months because of the risk of botulism, a rare type of poisoning caused by toxins that attack the nerves.

Honey can contain Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium found in soil. While most grown people's digestive systems can handle these spores, babies' systems are too immature, which can result in bacteria growing and producing toxins in the intestinal tract. This can lead to muscle weakness and breathing problems, and it requires immediate medical care.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recommended that children under the age of 6 should not take any cough or cold medicines because they have not been shown to effective and can have serious side effects. For children older than 12 months, honey may be a useful substitute.

How to Use Honey for a Cough

You can try 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey either on its own, spread on toast, or mixed into a cup of tea or warm water. While honey can be consumed as needed, it also adds sugar and calories to your diet. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to about 30 grams a day, so try to keep your daily honey intake to less than 6 teaspoons.

A Word From Verywell

Honey is just one way to improve a cough. Often, coughs from upper respiratory infections improve by staying hydrated and getting lots of rest. If your cough lasts more than three weeks, is accompanied by shortness of breath, or occurs along with a fever, see your healthcare provider. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can honey be used for a cough?

    Yes, honey can be used to offer some relief for a cough. Studies have shown that honey was more effective than a placebo (a fake medicine) at reducing coughing, and perhaps better than over-the-counter cough remedies.

  • Does buckwheat honey relieve a cough?

    Like regular honey, buckwheat honey can help soothe a cough. Studies have found that it can reduce the frequency of a cough as well as improve a child's quality of sleep. But it shouldn't be given to children younger than 12 months.

  • How much honey should be used for a cough?

    To soothe a cough, start with 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey. You can have it on its own, spread it on toast, or mix it into warm water or tea.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Goldman RD. Honey for treatment of cough in children. Can Fam Physician. 2014;60(12):1107-8, 1110.

  2. Shadkam MN, Mozaffari-Khosravi H., and Mozayan MR. A comparison of the effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and diphenhydramine on nightly cough and sleep quality in children and their parents. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(7):787-93.

  3. Carrillo-marquez MA. Botulism. Pediatr Rev. 2016;37(5):183-92. doi:10.1542/pir.2015-0018

  4. Briars LA. The Latest Update on Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Product Use in Children. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2009;14(3):127-31. doi:10.5863/1551-6776-14.3.127

  5. American Heart Association. How much sugar is too much?

  6. Fashner J, Ericson K, Werner S. Treatment of the common cold in children and adultsAm Fam Physician. 2012;86(2):153-159.

Additional Reading

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.