Honey – a great natural remedy for cough and sore throat

Sure, science has evolved and it’s amazing what medicine can do today. But some of the best home remedies for various ailments we still use and love even today have been inherited from our grannies. And, in most cases, you’ll see no doctor complaining about that. You’ve probably noticed that your healthcare provider and your child’s pediatrician are reluctant to prescribe antibiotics or painkillers unless they are absolutely necessary. And that is a really good thing! According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today and it can affect anyone, of any age, in any country. And while antibiotic resistance can occur naturally, the misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process. So much that a continuously growing number of infections, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea or salmonellosis are becoming almost impossible to treat because the antibiotics that were usually used are no longer effective. In this context, decreasing inappropriate antibiotic use is a key strategy to control antibiotic resistance.

So, whenever possible, it’s highly recommended that you help your body heal naturally. This, of course, does not mean putting yourself or your family in danger. If the symptoms are severe, they keep intensifying or new symptoms occur, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately. However, most of us deal with cough and sore throat on a yearly basis, without them being associated with life-threatening conditions. For these situations, honey is an amazing natural remedy.

If you’re like most of us, you surely have at all times a jar of honey in your pantry. And you might have even tested already this theory by giving your child a teaspoon of honey to relieve the cough and soothe its scratchy throat. But you will be happy to find out that scientists went further than that and found out that not only honey is beneficial against cough, but also that it has a complex mechanism of action that is even more efficient than you would have thought.

Honey for cough and sore throat – how does it work?

Inflammation of the throat and cough occur as a result of bacterial or viral infections. Honey acts in two directions: on the cause and on the symptoms. Due to its antibacterial and antiseptic properties and a number of specific enzymes, honey helps destroy bacteria and speeds up healing. Honey acts as an anti-inflammatory, rapidly reducing inflammation and relieving pain. It has a calming effect on the lining of the respiratory tract and prevents coughing.

In addition to creating a protective layer in the throat, honey has also been associated with some changes at the sensorial level. The sensory nerves in the throat react in contact with the honey and send signals to the central nervous system which regulates, among others, the cough mechanism.

World health organizations such as WHO, The American Academy of Pediatrics and NHS recommend honey for calming cough, being supported by numerous studies that prove its efficiency in relieving chough and sore throat.

One study, published in 2007, compared the effects of honey, dextromethorphan (an over-the-counter medication most often used as a cough suppressant) and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents. A survey was administered to parents on 2 consecutive days, first on the day of presentation when no medication had been given the prior evening and then the next day when honey or no treatment had been given prior to bedtime. The results showed that honey scored the best, while no treatment scored the worse. In paired comparison, honey was significantly superior to no treatment, while comparison of honey with dextromethorphan revealed no significant difference. Still, parents rated honey most favourably for symptomatic relief of their child’s nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory tract infection.

Another study, published in 2012, compared the effects of a single nocturnal dose of 3 honey products (eucalyptus honey, citrus honey and labiatae honey) to placebo on nocturnal cough and difficulty sleeping associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infections. Participants included 300 children aged 1 to 5 years with upper respiratory tract infection causing nocturnal cough and, and again a survey was administered to parents on 2 consecutive days, first on the day of presentation, when no medication had been given the previous evening, and next on the following day, when the study preparation was given before bedtime. The results showed that parents rated the honey products higher than placebo for symptomatic relief of their children’s nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory tract infection.

A word of caution

Honey is contraindicated in case of diabetes, obesity or other illnesses whose treatments involve avoiding sweet foods. Paediatricians also caution that honey should not be administered to children under the age of one because they are at risk of infant botulism. Spores of the bacteria that causes this infection (Clostridium botulinum) can be present in the pollen, and therefore they can contaminate the honey. And although the incidence is very low, and to adults these spores don’t pose any risk, to the child’s immune system, which is still undeveloped, they can pose a challenge.