Honey has been shown in previous research to have broad-spectrum antimicrobial actions and antiviral properties, but is it effective in reducing acute cough symptoms due to upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) in children? A review in the Cochrane Library assessed three randomized controlled studies (RCTs) of 568 patients with median age of 5.22 years presenting with URTIs and nocturnal symptoms.
None of the studies evaluated the effect of honey on cough duration, but there was moderate quality evidence that honey may be better than “no treatment” in reducing the frequency of cough and does not differ significantly from dextromethorphan in reducing cough frequency. Low quality evidence suggests that honey may be slightly better than diphenhydramine in reducing cough frequency. As for adverse events, no significant differences were seen with honey vs. dextromethorphan, honey vs. diphenhydramine, or honey vs. placebo.
The authors conclude that there is presently no strong evidence for or against the use of honey in reducing acute cough symptoms in children over the age of 1, and that the potential benefits should be considered alongside the harms. For infants less than 1 year old, the use of honey is not advised due to poor immunity against Clostridium botulinum.