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Content provided by Thomas W. Tryon, MD, MBA, FAAP; UCA Pediatric Section Chair
Winter is here. We call this the “cold and flu” season for a reason. On a daily basis, I see patients and families who are so frustrated with the wintertime cold symptoms and want to know that will work to help with their child’s cough (or for that matter, their cough as an adult or parent). Research has answered that question for us. Penn State University completed a comprehensive research trial of all of the over-the-counter cough and cold medications in 2007 where they initially compared everything over-the-counter to sugar water (or what was considered a placebo). Interestingly, what was found was that sugar water worked better than EVERYTHING being sold over-the-counter as a cough medication. EVERYTHING! Based on this research evidence, major publications then recommended no longer using over-the-counter cough and cold medications. In fact, the food and drug administration (FDA) actually gave a black box warning for all cough and cold medications to all children under 6 years of age. That means, the cough and cold medications are potentially more HARMFUL than helpful.
When I advise parents who are frustrated with their child’s cough, I tell them there only three interventions that have proven to be evidence-based. First, elevate your child’s head. We know if children are laying flat, mucous will pool in the back of their throat and cause them to cough more. Second, humidify the air in your child’s room. However, the pediatric allergist will tell you that humidity needs to be TARGETED. That is, it needs to be between 40-50% humidity. Less than 40% and it doesn’t really help mucous and coughing. If the humidity is over 60%, mold starts growing and it is counterproductive. I recommend getting a humidity gauge and using as many humidifiers in the room as necessary to get the humidity between 40-50%.
Last, the only product that has been shown to actually help coughing is a special kind of honey called buckwheat honey. Buckwheat honey is a dark, high anti-oxidant honey that is popular in the northeast. This honey was used in the Penn State University study and was found to be the most effective; more than sugar water, and more than anything over-the-counter containing dextromethorphan (DM). In the Penn State University study, they specifically studied giving one dose of cough medication or buckwheat honey at bedtime and then having parents rate the amount of coughing their child did during the night. Hands down, buckwheat honey was the clear winner and, in fact, the only product shown to be of any value. As with all other honey, it can only be given to children older than one year of age.
My recommendation to parents is to give one teaspoon up to every 4 hours. However, I would mainly target giving it at bedtime to help them sleep (and help parents sleep, too). Coughing and clearing mucous out of the lungs during the day while awake is not a bad thing. However, as a parent, I know how hard it is to sleep with a child coughing in the next room. Buckwheat honey may be the answer for your coughing child. If you want more information, it can be found here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071203164750.htm
Best wishes for a happy and healthy Winter, 2020 and cough-free sleeping.
Urgent Care Association
28600 Bella Vista Pkwy, Suite 2010
Warrenville, IL 60555
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