This article was previously published on September 14, 2020 and has been updated with new information.
The medical term to describe the common cold is upper respiratory tract infection (UTI). It is often caused by a virus that infects your nose, throat and mouth. More than 200 different viruses are responsible for this, and the most common are rhinoviruses.1
In a cross-sectional study published in 2016, scientists in India analyzed the frequency of URIs in rural and urban populations.2 A total of 3498 people were tested during the study, of whom 287 then had an upper respiratory tract infection. Children were infected more often than adults, especially those under 5 years of age.
Antibiotic prescriptions are not recommended for children or adults with a cold because these medications treat bacterial rather than viral infections. The CDC recommends that you focus on alleviating symptoms such as:3
“There is a possibility of harm and no proven benefit from over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in children <6 years of age. These substances are among the top 20 substances that cause death in children <5 years of age."
Identify upper respiratory tract infections
Many of the symptoms of seasonal allergies, the common cold, and lower respiratory tract infections (LRIs) with the flu can look similar. Acute influenza LRIs have been linked to 34,800 deaths in 2018; so it is important to know how to understand the symptoms.4
In a 2015 literature review, the researchers reviewed 56 studies and found 124 definitions of upper and lower acute respiratory infections.5 This variability affects the ability to generalize recommendations for prevention and treatment.
Doctors in Louisville, Kentucky, say there are signs and symptoms that distinguish seasonal allergies, colds and flu:6
|Cough||Sometimes||Mild to moderate||Frequent, can become serious|
|Fever||Not||Rarely||High, 102 ° F to 104 ° F for three to four days|
|Fatigue||Usual||Mild||It lasts two to three weeks|
|Pains and aches||Never||Treasure||It can be serious|
Honey is the ultimate treatment for URI
Although children are more likely to be infected with the common cold virus than adults, it is still the third most common diagnosis for adults who sometimes get between two and four colds each year.7 The CDC recommends that adults treat their symptoms with decongestants and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
The use of antihistamines, intranasal corticosteroids, and opioids alone has not been substantiated by scientific evidence. Although most URIs are due to viral infection, acute respiratory tract infections are still the most common reason for prescribing antibiotics to adults.8 Mayo Clinic recommends specific treatments at home:9
Drinking plenty of fluids
Eat chicken soup
Controlling room temperature and humidity
Gargle with salt water to soothe the throat
Using physiological nasal drops to relieve congestion
Using over-the-counter cold and cough medicines to relieve symptoms
While over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are not considered effective for children under 6, the Cochrane Literature Review notes that while many preparations have only minor side effects in adults, they may not work any better than placebo.10
The authors of a recent literature review sought to assess how honey agrees with conventional care and antibiotics to relieve symptoms in adults with upper respiratory tract infections. The researchers included 14 studies comparing cough frequency, cough intensity and symptom outcomes. They concluded:11
“Honey has been better than conventional care to improve the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. It provides a widely available and inexpensive alternative to antibiotics. Honey could help in efforts to slow the spread of antimicrobial resistance, but further high-quality, placebo-controlled trials are needed.”
The results of this study support past data with similar results. In an Italian study involving 134 children with a nonspecific cough, researchers compared the use of multiple doses of honey with the use of dextromethorphan and levodropropizine, the two most commonly prescribed OTC cough medicines in Italy.12
The children were given either a mixture of milk and honey from wild flowers or a dose of one of the medicines, depending on the group to which they were assigned. Researchers have found that a mixture of milk and honey is at least as effective as medication.
Honey reduces night cough in children
In an earlier study, the effectiveness of honey was compared to that of dextromethorphan in 105 children with URIs who were ill for seven days or less. The researchers found that the honey was the best, and the parents rated it more favorable.13
Another group of researchers compared the effectiveness of dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine with honey. They wondered if the treatments had reduced the cough associated with URIs that made sleep difficult. One hundred and thirty-nine children were divided into four groups, receiving either honey, dextromethorphan, diphenhydramine, or supportive care.
The study team found that a dose of 2.5 ml of honey at bedtime relieves more cough than other treatments. Interestingly, there was no statistical difference in the efficacy of dextromethorphan compared to diphenhydramine.14
According to the authors of a paper published in the journal Canadian Family Physician, more than 50% of children under the age of 12 use one or more OTC products in a given week.15 Most of them are medicines for coughs and colds.
Based on the results of the meta-analysis, the scientists showed no evidence for or against the use of OTC drugs.16 In another clinical trial, the Egyptian team included 100 children aged 5 and younger who coughed because of URI. The intervention group received a cough medicine with a combination of honey and lemon.17
The researchers found that children who received honey and lemon experienced greater relief than children who received the drug alone. Many OTC medications carry potential risks for children, including insomnia and drowsiness.
Taken together, the results of all these studies suggest that honey works just as well as dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine. It is also safer. However, it should not be used in children under 1 year of age as it may contain dormant Clostridium botulinum, which can lead to pediatric botulism.
For this reason, it is important not to give children under 1 year of age any products that contain honey. The author of the paper published in the journal Canadian Family Physician says that honey can be recommended “… as a single dose of 2.5 milliliters (half a teaspoon) at bedtime for children older than 1 year with cough.”18
It can help slow the spread of antibiotic resistance
A secondary advantage of using natural products such as honey is that it helps slow down the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Excessive use of antibiotics is a contributing factor to the growth of superbugs.19 Researchers have suggested that education for parents20 and professionals21 can help reduce antibiotic abuse.
A retrospective review of the chart found that 64.2% of people with respiratory tract infections received inappropriate antibiotics, the most common of which were azithromycin, amoxicillin clavulanate (Augmentin), and moxifloxacin.22 Interestingly, in this review, penicillin allergy and the presence of cough were significant predictors of inappropriate antibiotic use.
Some bacteria have developed resistance to multiple antibiotics. The CDC estimates that in 2019, “… more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.”23
Some experts believe that the actual figures could be up to seven times higher.24 Infectious Diseases Specialist at the University of Washington, Dr. Jason Burnham, along with two colleagues, examined data from 2010. They expanded the definition of antibiotic-resistant deaths and concluded that 153,113 deaths could be attributed to multidrug-resistant organisms.
These reports bring what experts have been warning us about for decades – bacteria continue to grow and mutate in order to survive. As more and more antibiotics are used in health and agriculture, they become less and less effective, and we become more and more vulnerable to antibiotic-resistant infections.
Take care of the honey you buy
Honey has been used for centuries because of its medicinal value and because people enjoy the taste. Scientists have found that it has antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus epidermidis, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Salmonella enterica.25 It has shown activity against antibiotic-sensitive and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.26
Manuka honey has been used to treat wounds because it inhibits the growth of bacteria, while stimulating the local immune response and suppressing inflammation.27 The benefits of honey are significant, but as I have warned in the past, they do not extend to the processed honey you find on store shelves, which is often little more than fructose syrup.
It is especially important that store honey is never used on wounds as it can increase the risk of infection.
In addition to the challenges of finding quality honey in regular stores, it has been shown that honey can be counterfeited or even faked.28 – it is presented and sold as honey, but in fact it is something else – because the population of bees is rapidly declining, and there is not so much real honey.
Consider purchasing real, organic honey from local producers at agricultural markets. Since real honey doesn’t run out even after opening, it’s safe to buy enough in the summer to last until next spring.29 It also pays to know how to test your honey at home. Here are some physical properties you can look for in quality honey:30
Fragrance – Your first test is the aroma coming from the jar, which should be reminiscent of the flowers and grass from which bees collect pollen; industrial honey has an industrial odor.
Thickness – The movement should be slow and dense. Put a drop on your thumb. If it starts to spread, the honey is not clean. Thick, pure honey will remain intact.
Flavor – When you eat pure honey, the taste quickly disappears, but counterfeit honey is rich in sugar.
dissolution – When added to water, pure honey will form a lump and stick together, while counterfeit honey dissolves. Pure honey will not be absorbed into absorbent paper or fabric, but counterfeit honey will leave stains as it is absorbed.
Heat and flame – When heated on the stove, the fake honey will create bubbles. Try dipping the end of the match in honey and lighting it. If it glows, the honey is probably clean because the added moisture in the counterfeit honey makes it almost impossible to ignite.
Tests – Consider these additional tests: