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Honey for a Cough

This summer was what I will always refer to as the Summer of the Great Cough. Big Girl started coughing on and off all day and night in July and didn’t stop coughing until after labor day. And when I say coughing, I mean COUGHING. Like you have never heard before. Coughing fits that came out of nowhere, lasted several minutes, and were so bad that sometimes, when she was done coughing, she would vomit. At night, she was so exhausted from coughing all day she would actually vomit in her sleep and fail to wake up. We changed a lot of sheets and gave a lot of midnight showers. The most frightening part was that no matter what time she started coughing, her face would turn red, her eyes would bug out, and she literally couldn’t catch her breath. It was very, very scary.

We went back and forth to the doctor about 10 times including twice to the after-hours facility. A virus, they told us. A cold. Allergies. Until finally my doctor proclaimed that she thought Big Girl had pertussis or whooping cough, as it is more commonly known as. The doctor swabbed Big Girl’s nose, and told us to sit back and wait. In the meantime, the doctor said she should get started on a course of HARSH antibiotics. They couldn’t halt the cough, she said, but would absolutely make sure she couldn’t pass it along to anyone else. (People with pertussis cough because the bacteria release a toxin, which paralyzes the cilia — the little hairs that sweep out bad stuff — in the trachea. They cough once the mucus and junk gets so thick that even paralyzed, the body knows it needs to get it out.) She took that medication for ten days twice a day along with a yogurt smoothie to keep her intestinal tract healthy. After the semi-diagnosis, she stayed in the house for five days until we knew she was clear. And I prayed every day that she hadn’t previously exposed someone who had an infant at home, since even vaccinated people aren’t safe from pertussis. The shot is only 60 percent effective. (See stories here and here that show the majority of people who get pertussis during an outbreak are vaccinated.)

When the baby developed a little cough that sounded “whoopy,” I medicated her, too. And my husband also got drugs when he started coughing. Interestingly, I never got the cough, which was weird because I was pregnant, and I picked up every little thing when I was pregnant with Little Girl. Anyway, Big Girl’s results come back negative for pertussis. Little Girl’s results (I had her swabbed, too) got lost at the lab. (Don’t even ask. I cried at the Long Island Children’s Museum when they told me that.) My husband’s swab was negative, too. However, my doctor and I, well, we still think it was pertussis, especially since I truly believe I was spared because I had a really, really bad case of pertussis as a child. I have what doctors call natural immunity.

The worst of the cough is over, but, as I expected, she is still coughing on and off, par for the course with pertussis. (If it was pertussis, she should cough until mid-October since it lasts up to three months.) I feel so bad for her when she coughs. Drugs — even if I was a medication type of person — don’t do anything. However, some recent research shows that there might be a fix for her cough. For anyone’s cough, really, and it’s more effective than any medication out there: a spoonful of honey.

The study was out of the Pennsylvania State University and compared the effectiveness of honey with drug dextromethorphan, found in over-the-counter cough medicine. There was a third study group that got nothing at all. The researchers made the dextromethorphan taste like honey so kids and parents couldn’t tell if they were getting the drugs or the actual honey. The study measured, “Cough frequency, cough severity, bothersome nature of cough, and child and parent sleep quality.” The results were pretty astounding.

“In a comparison of honey, [the drug treatment], and no treatment, parents rated honey most favorably for symptomatic relief of their child’s nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory tract infection. Honey may be a preferable treatment for the cough and sleep difficulty associated with childhood upper respiratory tract infection.”

Last night, hoping to ease her cough, which happens mostly at bedtime, I broke out a brand new jar of local honey that I picked up at Whole Foods. Big Girl, however, was not inclined to take it. I suffered through about five minutes of blech, ugh, grrr, nooos before giving up. We’ll try again tonight, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

This post is how I am participating in this week’s Real Food Wednesday and Fight Back Friday, two awesome blog carnivals dedicated to promoting the use and consumption of — what else? — real food.

3 Responses to “Honey for a Cough”

  1. Shari G says:

    Honey works! I have been taking it/ giving it for years. A remedy given to me as a child by my mother. Squeeze some lemon on the honey and it works even better.

  2. susan delg says:

    How about a squeeze of honey on yogurt or oatmeal, or in a cup of tea? Or does it need to be given without other substances?

  3. kb says:

    It’s got to go in alone and all at once. I actually got her to try it, though, and she didn’t mind it so much!

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