By Ben Farmer

Honey is better at treating children’s coughs than an ingredient used in many over-the-counter medicines, according to new research.

A small dose of honey was found to be more effective in cutting both the severity and the frequency of night-time coughing than a widely-used cough suppressant.

Honey also gave children – and their parents – a better night’s sleep, the researchers discovered, while Dextromethorphan (DM) which is found in several well-known brands of cough medicine including some types of Benylin and Robitussin, was found to be no better than taking nothing at all.

Honey has been used for centuries to treat coughing and other effects of infections in the upper respiratory system and is known to combat bacteria as well as having a soothing effect.

Dr Ian Paul, associate professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine, who led the research, said: “Our study adds to the growing literature questioning the use of DM in children, but it also offers a legitimate and safe alternative for physicians and parents.

“Additional studies should certainly be considered, but we hope that medical professionals will consider the positive potential of honey as a treatment given the lack of proven efficacy, expense, and potential for adverse effects associated with the use of DM.”

The latest research, published in this month’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, looked at 105 children aged between two and 18 with coughs.

On the first night of the study, children received no treatment and their parents were questioned about their child’s cough and sleep quality as well as how they themselves slept.

The following night, children received either honey, artificial honey-flavored DM or no treatment about half an hour before going to bed and parents answered the same questions the next morning.

Parents said the buckwheat honey gave more relief for coughs and lack of sleep than either DM or no treatment at all, although some did report mild side effects including hyperactivity.

Three years ago the same team found that neither DM nor diphenhydramine, another common component of cough medicines, had any more effect than a placebo in reducing night-time coughing.

Dr Donna McVey, UK medical director of manufacturer Wyeth, whose product Robitussin Dry Liquid contains DM, said: “It is indicated for use in children over the age of six years and is a registered medicine licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency as being safe and effective for the relief of dry, tickly coughs.

“It is only sold through pharmacies, where staff are trained to recommend the correct type of treatment for different types of cough and different age groups. I would certainly have no hesitation in recommending it to children over six years of age in my family.”