Honey Not Antibiotics Recommended for Cough

honey antibiotics

New guidelines have recommended that people who have a cough should have hot drinks with honey and take cough medicines, rather than be given antibiotics.

Doctors are being encouraged to promote honey rather than to offer antibiotics, which can make little difference to people’s symptoms of a cough.

Upper respiratory tract infection

Most coughs are caused a viral upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or flu. They usually get better by themselves within three to four weeks.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has released new draft guidance on how doctors should help people who come to them suffering from a cough.

Reduced severity of cough

Rather than prescribe antibiotics, NICE has said that honey can be effective at reducing the symptoms of a cough.

They looked at the results of a number of trials trials and found that honey significantly reduced the frequency and severity of cough after one day when compared with no treatment.

Cough medicines

Honey is usually mixed with hot water and lemon to make a drink that soothe the cough. Honey should only be given to people over the age of one – those under one should not have honey due to the risk of infant botulism (a type of food poisoning).

Honey is also used in some cough medicines, which NICE also recommends using to treat the symptoms of a cough. NICE also recommends using ‘pelargonium’, a herbal cough remedy.

Side effects

Antibiotics are used to treat infections that are caused by bacteria. Most coughs are caused by viruses, not infections. If antibiotics are taken for a cough, NICE has said that trials show they don’t make much difference, either to symptoms or to how long the cough lasts for.

And there are other reasons for not taking antibiotics when they are not necessary. Antibiotics can cause side effects, and there is increasing evidence of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance increasing

Bacteria are starting to become resistant to antibiotics, which means they don’t work as well. The frequency of this resistance is increasing and new antibiotics are not being developed fast enough to cope with it.

Doctors are being advised to only prescribe antibiotics when it is absolutely necessary. The new NICE guidance on coughs says not to ‘routinely offer an antibiotic to people for an acute cough who are not systemically very unwell or at higher risk of complications.’


This article was written by a third party source and does not reflect the views or opinions of Ramsay Health Care unless explicitly stated.

Additional comments on the page from individual Consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Consultants or Ramsay Health Care.

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