Hearing little kids cough is both worrying and tiring for parents, especially at night when it almost always gets worse. When their child starts crying because they’re exhausted from all the coughing and can’t sleep, it also means mom or dad won’t get any shut-eye either.
It can be tempting to go to the drugstore and get over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medication, but according to doctors, there’s no particular medication they can prescribe that will actually work. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend OTC medicines as they do not work for children under 7 years old.
“What the studies have shown is that — for some reason — in kids, they aren’t that effective,” explains pediatrician Jennifer Shu, a spokesperson for the AAP, in an interview with NPR.
More importantly, the use of these medicines can have potentially serious side effects, “such as increasing your blood pressure, making your heart rate go up, or suppressing the drive to breathe — and that’s definitely something we don’t want for kids,” says Dr. Shu.
Honey for treatment of cough
If medicines don’t work, what then is the best remedy?
“Honey is at least as effective as those many, many products that you see in the drugstore,” Bud Wiedermann, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington D.C., tells NPR.
Just make sure not to give honey to babies under a year old — it can lead to infant botulism, which can cause constipation, poor appetite, lethargy, and in more severe cases, even pneumonia and dehydration.
A 2007 study showed that honey for cough was more effective than dextromethorphan (a common cough suppressant) without the risks of side effects. Another study in 2012 showed that kids who took up to two teaspoons of honey at bedtime seemed to reduce nighttime coughing and improved sleep.
Doctors note, however, that it is still unclear how exactly honey works to relieve cough.
“Honey has some natural antibacterial and antiviral properties,” Dr. Shu explains. “It contains hydrogen peroxide so there is a theory that that’s why it might help fight a cold. But also the thickness of it helps coat the throat and makes it feel more comfortable so you don’t have that dry, ticklish feeling that’s causing your cough.”
According to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, honey can help thin down kids’ mucus and loosen their cough. It can also alleviate the soreness of the throat.
Honey as a natural remedy
In our Facebook group, Smart Parenting Village, honey is a popular natural remedy for cough and colds. One mom wrote that she would make a mixture out of honey, calamansi, garlic, and onion.
“Garlic and onion are natural antibiotics. Calamansi [helps] to boost the immune system,” the mom explains. “Honey is a good choice for a cough. I give [my child] one teaspoon, three times a day, until [they get] better.”
Other moms would mix honey with lemon juice or with ginger.
Prevention is better than cure
Aside from honey, some more things parents can do to provide comfort include keeping them hydrated, elevating the head of the bed (to relieve a stuffy nose), turning on the humidifier, or giving them a warm bath to soothe aches and pains.
Coughs and colds go away on their own — "Most patients will get better on their own in a week or two without needing medications," according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration pediatrician Amy M. Taylor, M.D.
Infants who are breathing too fast, as well as high fevers at any age, are a cause for concern. And if your child's cough lasts more than three weeks, is getting worse than better, or if they are experiencing the following symptoms, seek medical advice immediately:
- severely sore throat
- severe earache
- difficulty in breathing
- chest pain or coughing up bloodstained phlegm
- increasing headache or facial or throat pain
- swollen glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
Prevention is most important of all. During this time when there is a threat of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, it is crucial that we boost our children’s immune system, as well as teach them proper hygiene. Get your kids the flu vaccine if you can and remind them to always wash their hands. Remember: The habit of handwashing may be the best vaccine out there!