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Remedies: Honey for Coughing


3 Star


Remedies: Honey for Coughing

Our Review Summary

The story attempts to synthsize the available evidence on the value of honey as a treatment for cough in children. In doing so, it provides what is arguably incomplete and potentially misleading information to the consumer. The results of the 2007 paper, highlighted in the blog, should have been explained a bit more completely. Indeed honey did fair better than the active ingredient in most cough syrups, dextromethorphan. But statistically significant results don’t necessarily translate to the results parents can expect at 3 AM; that is, are the effects not only detectable by researchers, but substantial enough to make a difference that parents and small patients would really notice.


Why This Matters

Helping young children cope with a cold can be a frustrating experience for parents. Parents want a simple remedy, but that remedy has eluded them throughout the years. As this story points out, the best medicine may be no medicine at all. To prove that point, though, reporters need to provide readers with the hard evidence. In reality there are no proven and acceptable treatments for cough in children. That’s why this blog, brief as it is, is important and should have provided readers with better information.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story makes no mention of costs. We also would have liked to have seen some explanation of whether it mattered if a parent used the cheapest honey or the pricey organic stuff.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story could have provided some of the specific differences between the treatments. Our guess is that with a study on only 100 patients, the absolute differences were probably not that large. Putting some more numbers in the story would help parents see the results in better context.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

We appreciate that, at the end of the piece, it includes a section on risks. It says, “The Risks: According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, honey may be useful in relieving coughing, but it should never be given to children under a year of age because in rare cases it can cause infantile botulism.” We think a number here would have helped. How rare is rare? One in 1,000? One in 1 million? According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are about 110 cases of infant botulism annually. While the cause of the infection is not entirely clear, both honey and corn syrup have been implicated. SInce the story suggests that sweet substances might be useful, the addition of corn syrup to the risks would have been helpful to readers.(see:

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story carefully explains the science behind the two clinical trials it describes. It does not, though, provide enough data and that’s where it fails to convey the right information. For example, the 2007 study asked parents to rate how successful the treatment was on a scale that ranged from 1 (not at all) to 6 (extremely). Yes, honey did fair better than dextromethorphan statistically. But what parents want to know is, can you take it to the bedside? The three groups (honey, dextromethorphan and no treatment) all scored between 3 (somewhat) and 4 (a lot). While the differences likely brought a smile to the statistician, it is unlikely that any parent could discern such fine distinctions early in the morning with their child kept awake by persistent coughing.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story does not engage in disease-mongering.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Applicable

This is such a brief summation of various studies that we don’t feel this category applies. No one was quoted or cited.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story does a good job comparing and contrasting the different remedies. We wish it had provided real numbers, but, overall, it did a good job.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The story makes it clear that the standard treatment for colds in kids was the subject of a 2007 ban by the FDA, and that the other standard remedy – honey – is a grocery store staple.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story makes it clear that honey is commonly used to treat the symptoms of colds.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


The story does not rely on any news releases.

Total Score: 5 of 9 Satisfactory


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