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Honey may be better than other treatments for easing respiratory symptoms – study

Upper respiratory tract illnesses are often treated with antihistamines, expectorants, cough suppressants, painkillers and antibiotics
Nina Massey (PA)

HONEY may be better than other usual treatments for easing upper respiratory tract symptoms, especially coughs, researchers have said.

Doctors can recommend it as a suitable alternative to antibiotics, which are often prescribed for such infections, even though they are not suitable, scientists from the University of Oxford said.

Upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) affect the nose, throat, voice box and the large air passages (bronchi) that lead from the windpipe to the lungs. Symptoms can include sore throat, blocked nose, cough, and congestion.

Honey has long been used as a home remedy to treat coughs and colds but the evidence for its effectiveness for a range of upper respiratory tract symptoms in adults has not been systematically reviewed.

The scientists looked at research databases for relevant studies comparing honey and preparations that included it as an ingredient with usual treatments – mostly antihistamines, expectorants, cough suppressants, and painkillers.

Data analysis indicated that honey was more effective than usual care for improving symptoms, especially frequency and severity of coughing. Two of the studies showed symptoms lasted one to two days less among those treated with honey.

However, the researchers noted that honey is a complex substance and not a uniform product.

Writing in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine, they said: "Upper respiratory tract infections are the most frequent reason for antibiotic prescription. Since the majority of URTIs are viral, antibiotic prescription is both ineffective and inappropriate."

The researchers suggest honey might therefore provide an alternative when doctors want to prescribe something to safely treat upper respiratory tract symptoms.

"Honey is more effective and less harmful than usual care alternatives and avoids causing harm through antimicrobial resistance," they add.

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