It feels faint at first — there’s a little tickle or scratch at the back of your throat.
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Then, it hurts or even burns when you swallow.
You’re taking cough syrup and lozenges in an attempt to get some relief. But what about using honey for sore throat symptoms? Does this natural home remedy actually work to soothe a sore throat and cough?
Yes, says family medicine physician Elizabeth Rainbolt, MD.
Dr. Rainbolt explains how honey works and when and how to use it.
Honey for a sore throat
It’s common to get a sore throat every now and then. You may have a sore throat due to the following:
- Bacterial or viral infections, like strep throat and sinus infections.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Irritants like smoking or spicy foods.
In addition to having other symptoms like nasal congestion, fatigue and fever, you may develop a cough.
Honey has a long history of being used as a natural remedy. And one remedy is to soothe sore throats and help alleviate a cough.
“Research shows that honey has some antimicrobial and anti-inflammation properties. Honey can help by decreasing inflammation and irritation in your throat,” explains Dr. Rainbolt. “Another study shows that honey may reduce mucus secretion. So, you can use honey for cough symptoms as well, whether it’s a wet or dry cough.”
Is it safe for children?
Giving honey to a child under 1-year-old isn’t recommended, warns Dr. Rainbolt.
“There’s concern for an infant botulism, a serious illness that’s caused by Clostridium botulinum,” she continues. “While it’s a rare occurrence, honey can contain spores that cause botulism. It attacks the body’s nervous system and children under one are more vulnerable.”
How to use for a sore throat
Most sore throats tend to get better within a week, but during that time, adults can take a spoonful (about 1 teaspoon) of honey for a cough and sore throat.
You can also dilute half a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of honey in warm water or tea. This method is also recommended for children older than 1.
“You can use it with any kind of herbal tea or warm water with lemon juice, which can be soothing as well,” says Dr. Rainbolt.
So, how often can you use this home remedy? Dr. Rainbolt recommends using honey no more than four or five times a day.
And part of that reasoning is that honey does contain sugar.
“If you’re concerned about your sugar intake, then I recommend using honey more sparingly,” she says. “I would just use it at night to give you some relief before you go to bed.”
And can you use both honey and traditional cold medicine?
Yes, says Dr. Rainbolt.
“If it seems like the honey isn’t helping on its own, then you can certainly do both honey and medication, if medicine is something that you are able to take,” she notes.
Is honey safe to use?
Honey can be a helpful tool for those who can’t take traditional cold medications — for example, children under 6 years old or individuals with health conditions like high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.
Overall, honey can be a good way to help soothe your sore throat and cough. It doesn’t come with some of the side effects that over-the-counter medications have like drowsiness.
So, can you just buy any honey you see on the grocery store shelf?
Yes, but you might want to make sure it’s been pasteurized. The pasteurization process removes any crystallization and unwanted yeast. It also improves honey’s texture and color, while extending its shelf life.
Dr. Rainbolt also mentions that some people think using local honey, which tends to be unpasteurized or raw, can come with extra benefits.
“There’s a thought that if you use local honey, you are exposed to some of the area’s natural allergens in a positive way,” she explains. “The idea is that it will help with allergies you have.”
The next time your throat starts to tickle, reach for honey and see if it helps.
“Think of honey as a first line of defense for those over 1 year old,” says Dr. Rainbolt. “Honey is something that pretty much everyone can try. And it’s been shown to work as well as some cough suppressant medications. It’s a nice alternative.”