UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Pediatrics

Title: The cough is keeping them awake all night!

Keywords: cough, upper respiratory infection, children, honey (PubMed Search)

Posted: 11/1/2013 by Danielle Devereaux, MD
Click here to contact Danielle Devereaux, MD

How many times have you been frustrated in the peds ED when you have a child with a URI that has a significant night time cough and you feel like you have nothing to offer them for symptom control?  The parent is frustrated because the child is not sleeping which means they are not sleeping and they are looking at you for help.  We all know that OTC cough and cold medications are not helpful and may be harmful in children <2 yrs old and should be used with caution in children <6 yrs old.  So what can you do?  You can recommend a course of HONEY at night.  Of course this does not apply to children < 1 yr who are at increased risk of botulism.  A recent double-blind placebo-controlled trial published in Pediatrics in 2012 demonstrated reduced night time cough and subjective improved sleep quality in children age 1-5 who were given honey compared to placebo.  This study supports previous less rigorous publications that found honey was an effective remedy on cough in children.  Mechanism for honey's beneficial effect on cough is unknown but possibly related to close anatomic relationship between sensory nerve fibers that initiate cough and gustatory nerve fibers that taste sweetness.  Of note, a recently published survey in Pediatric Emergency Care revealed that 2/3 of parents were unaware of the FDA guidelines regarding OTC cough and cold remedies in children!  After you recommend HONEY for night time cough, take an extra minute and educate your parents about the potential dangers of cough and cold medicines in small children!


Cohen A, Rozen J, Kristal H, et al. Effect of honey on nocturnal cough and sleep quality: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Pediatrics. 2012; 130(2): 465-471.

Varney SM, et al. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2012; 28(9): 883-885

Food and Drug Administration. Using Over-The-Counter Cough and Cold Products in Children. Available at