The Truth About Cough Medicine: Does It Work Or Not?

The evidence is in. Cough medicine does not work. In fact, if it did it would be dangerous. People who can’t cough can get pneumonia and lung damage. They cannot clear mucus and infection from the lung.

In most cases, cough from a cold is from throat irritation from post nasal drip and congestion. To treat that, our grandparents and great-grandparents had the right idea.  Honey. Research studies show that honey helps a cough – and does a much better job at it than cough medicine.

Why would honey help? It soothes the throat. And when the throat is less irritated you cough less.  Personally, I like my honey in tea, sometimes with lemon, sometimes with fresh ginger, sometimes with both.  Don’t give honey to a baby under a year of age. Their guts are not mature enough to handle it. Infant botulism has been caused by giving honey to babies.

So why do doctors continue to prescribe cough medicine for colds? They believe that the parent will think that the doctor is not giving good care unless a prescription is given.

So what can you do when your doctor offers to prescribe a cough medicine for you or your child? Ask do I really need this. Ask if using honey (or tea with honey and lemon or ginger) would be ok instead. Most doctors are happy when you give them permission not to prescribe cough medicine.


About Dr. Harold Farber, Pediatric Pulmonologist

I am a Pediatric Pulmonologist at Texas Children's Hospital and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, and Associate Medical Director of Chronic Conditions for Texas Children's Health Plan.

I am the author of Control Your Child's Asthma: A Breakthrough Program for the Treatment and Management of Childhood Asthma (Owl Books).

My practice accepts referrals of tobacco-dependent adolescents who would like help in stopping smoking.

Posted in Flu, Parenting

One Response to The Truth About Cough Medicine: Does It Work Or Not?

  1. Jessica says:

    Thanks Dr. Farber. I had forgotten that my grandparents made me a tea of honey, lemon and a nip of bourbon when I was little and had a cough. I tried honey (sans bourbon) for a cough last week and it worked quite well. I’m not a fan of the taste of honey, but it’s no worse than cough syrup!

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