How Honey May Help Your Cough

Honey can't cure coughs, but it has been used for ages to ease them. That's because honey is believed to act as a demulcent—a substance that coats the throat and soothes mucus membranes. It also contains antioxidants and antimicrobial properties that may have a role in promoting healing.

While there's plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting honey's use for a cough, studies have also shown that a spoonful of honey may help reduce cough-related symptoms in adults and kids over 1 year old.

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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. 

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Article Sources
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  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?

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