Honey for acute cough in children

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Dec 23:(12):CD007094. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007094.pub4.


Background: Cough causes concern for parents and is a major cause of outpatient visits. It can impact on quality of life, cause anxiety and affect sleep in parents and children. Several remedies, including honey, have been used to alleviate cough symptoms.

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of honey for acute cough in children in ambulatory settings.

Search methods: We searched CENTRAL (2014, Issue 10), MEDLINE (1950 to October week 4, 2014), EMBASE (1990 to November 2014), CINAHL (1981 to November 2014), Web of Science (2000 to November 2014), AMED (1985 to November 2014), LILACS (1982 to November 2014) and CAB abstracts (2009 to January 2014).

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing honey given alone, or in combination with antibiotics, versus nothing, placebo or other over-the-counter (OTC) cough medications to participants aged from one to 18 years for acute cough in ambulatory settings.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently screened search results for eligible studies and extracted data on reported outcomes.

Main results: We included three RCTs, two at high risk of bias and one at low risk of bias, involving 568 children. The studies compared honey with dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, 'no treatment' and placebo for the effect on symptomatic relief of cough using a seven-point Likert scale. The lower the score, the better the cough symptom being assessed.Moderate quality evidence showed that honey may be better than 'no treatment' in reducing the frequency of cough (mean difference (MD) -1.05; 95% confidence interval (CI) -1.48 to -0.62; I(2) statistic 23%; two studies, 154 participants). High quality evidence also suggests that honey may be better than placebo for reduction of cough frequency (MD -1.85; 95% Cl -3.36 to -0.33; one study, 300 participants). Moderate quality evidence suggests that honey does not differ significantly from dextromethorphan in reducing cough frequency (MD -0.07; 95% CI -1.07 to 0.94; two studies, 149 participants). Low quality evidence suggests that honey may be slightly better than diphenhydramine in reducing cough frequency (MD -0.57; 95% CI -0.90 to -0.24; one study, 80 participants).Adverse events included mild reactions (nervousness, insomnia and hyperactivity) experienced by seven children (9.3%) from the honey group and two (2.7%) from the dextromethorphan group; the difference was not significant (risk ratio (RR) 2.94; 95% Cl 0.74 to 11.71; two studies, 149 participants). Three children (7.5%) in the diphenhydramine group experienced somnolence (RR 0.14; 95% Cl 0.01 to 2.68; one study, 80 participants). When honey was compared with placebo, four children (1.8%) in the honey group and one (1.3%) from the placebo group complained of gastrointestinal symptoms (RR 1.33; 95% Cl 0.15 to 11.74). However, there was no significant difference between honey versus dextromethorphan, honey versus diphenhydramine or honey versus placebo. No adverse event was reported in the 'no treatment' group.

Authors' conclusions: Honey may be better than 'no treatment', diphenhydramine and placebo for the symptomatic relief of cough, but it is not better than dextromethorphan. None of the included studies assessed the effect of honey on 'cough duration' because intervention and follow-up were for one night only. There is no strong evidence for or against the use of honey.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antitussive Agents / adverse effects
  • Antitussive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Apitherapy / adverse effects
  • Apitherapy / methods*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cough / therapy*
  • Dextromethorphan / adverse effects
  • Dextromethorphan / therapeutic use*
  • Diphenhydramine / adverse effects
  • Diphenhydramine / therapeutic use*
  • Honey / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Antitussive Agents
  • Dextromethorphan
  • Diphenhydramine