CHICAGO — A teaspoon of honey before bed seems to calm children's coughs and help them sleep better, according to a study that relied on parents' reports of their children's symptoms.
In a three-way comparison, the folk remedy did better than cough medicine or no treatment. Honey may work by coating and soothing an irritated throat, the study's authors said.
"Many families are going to relate to these findings and say that Grandma was right," said lead author Dr. Ian Paul of Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine.
The research appears in December's Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
Federal health advisors have recently warned that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines shouldn't be used in children younger than 6.
Three pediatricians who had read the study said they would tell parents seeking alternative remedies to try honey. They noted that honey should not be given to children under age 1 because of a low but real risk of botulism.
For the study, researchers recruited 105 children with upper respiratory infections.
Parents were given a bag with a dosing device inside. Some were empty. Some contained an age-appropriate dose of honey-flavored cough medicine containing dextromethorphan. And some contained a similar dose of honey.
The parents were asked about their children's sleep and cough symptoms, once before the bedtime treatment and once after. They rated the symptoms on a seven-point scale.
All of the children got better, but honey consistently scored best in parents' ratings of their children's cough symptoms.