Honey has long been used as a natural remedy for coughs, a common symptom of colds, bronchitis, and the flu. Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and antibacterial compounds, honey is thought to soothe the throat and serve as a cough suppressant. To date, however, research on honey's cough-suppressing effects has yielded mixed results.
Research on Honey for Coughs
For a 2010 report in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, scientists sized up all available clinical trials comparing honey (given alone or in combination with antibiotics) with no treatment, placebo, or over-the-counter medications for relief of cough in children. The only study to fit screening criteria was a trial that compared the effects of honey, dextromethorphan (a cough-suppressing medication), and no treatment on cough and sleep quality among 108 children with upper respiratory tract infections. Study results showed that honey was more effective in reducing cough frequency and improving sleep quality (compared to no treatment), but failed to ease the severity of cough. Researchers also found that dextromethorphan and honey did not differ significantly in their effects on cough and sleep quality.
Given this trial's findings, the authors of the 2010 review concluded that there is "insufficient evidence to advise for or against the use of honey for acute cough in children." However, in another review (published in the Journal of Family Practice in 2009), researchers concluded that honey may modestly decrease the frequency and severity of cough among people with acute upper respiratory tract infections.
Using Honey for Coughs
Although there is currently a lack of scientific support for the theory that honey can treat coughs, honey may relieve coughing to some degree (and most likely won't trigger any adverse effects). For more help in easing a cough, the National Institutes of Health recommend drinking plenty of water and/or moisturizing the air with the help of a vaporizer. You might also consider using other natural remedies for cough relief, such as marshmallow and mullein.
If your cough lasts longer than two to three weeks, consult your physician to check for an underlying health problem (such as asthma, allergies, and throat disorders). It should be noted that honey cannot treat any underlying condition known to cause coughs.
Dealleaume L, Tweed B, Neher JO. "Do OTC remedies relieve cough in acute URIs?" J Fam Pract. 2009 Oct;58(10):559a-c.
Oduwole O, Meremikwu MM, Oyo-Ita A, Udoh EE. "Honey for acute cough in children." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Jan 20;(1):CD007094.
Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin CM Jr. "Effect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007 Dec;161(12):1140-6.
National Institutes of Health. "Cough: MedlinePlus". June 2010.