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A spoonful of honey calms an irritating cough

Concern over the safety of children's cough and cold medicines has recently reached a fevered pitch.

An expert panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called for a complete ban on all over-the-counter remedies aimed at children under the age of 6.

And many leading doctors agree that if used incorrectly, the cough syrups have the potential to do serious harm.

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But a study released this week holds out the promise of a safe alternative to the medical treatments - a spoonful of honey.

For the trial, the researchers recruited 105 children between the ages of 2 and 18 who were suffering from a nighttime cough due to a cold.

The youngsters were divided into three groups: One was given a spoonful of honey before bedtime; another received dextromethorphan (the active ingredient in many cough syrups); and the third group received no treatment.

The results revealed that honey was "significantly" better at quieting a cough and helping the children sleep, compared with DM or no treatment.

"I think parents will welcome the opportunity to try something that is more natural than a medication," said lead researcher Ian Paul of Pennsylvania State University in Hershey. In fact, honey has been used as a folk remedy for centuries, he said.

Honey is a rich source of antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds that may aid healing. Dr. Paul also suspects much of the benefit might come from the "soothing effect of the thick, syrup-like liquid [honey]on the back of the throat." It seems to "calm the irritation that leads to cough."

However, Dr. Paul cautioned that honey should never be given to children under the age of 1. . "Botulism toxin can live in honey and small infants are vulnerable to it," he said. The condition is rare, but babies "can get very sick or even die."

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For older kids, though, honey is a safe and apparently effective cough soother. In the study, published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, children aged 2 to 5 received half a teaspoon; ages 6 to 11 had a teaspoon; and ages 12 and up had two teaspoons. The dose of honey was washed down by a non-caffeinated drink.

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