Honey has been used as a natural remedy for sore throats and coughs for centuries. Its viscous consistency helps to coat and soothe an irritated throat. Honey also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight infection and reduce swelling and pain. Let’s explore the evidence behind using honey to treat sore throats.
What causes a sore throat?
A sore throat is pain or irritation in the throat that often occurs during a cold, flu, or other viral infection. It can also result from bacterial infections like strep throat, environmental irritants like smoke or allergies, or straining the voice. The most common causes are:
- Viral infections like cold and flu – Viruses cause inflammation and swelling of the mucous membranes in the throat.
- Bacterial infections like strep throat – Bacteria directly infect and inflame the throat tissues.
- Allergies – Allergens trigger the immune system and cause inflammation in the throat.
- Dry air – Dry, cold air can dry out and irritate the throat.
- Smoking and pollution – Irritants in smoke inflame the throat lining.
- Yelling or voice strain – Overuse of the voice strains and inflames the throat.
What are the symptoms of a sore throat?
Common symptoms of a sore throat include:
- Pain or a scratchy feeling in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Swollen neck glands
- Hoarse or muffled voice
- Runny nose
The severity of symptoms depends on the cause. Viral infections tend to cause milder discomfort, while strep throat leads to more painful swallowing. Seeking medical treatment is recommended if symptoms are severe or persist beyond a few days.
What are the benefits of honey for sore throat?
Honey has several properties that make it a soothing remedy for sore throat:
- Coats the throat – The thick, sticky texture helps coat and protect an irritated throat.
- Contains antioxidants – Honey contains polyphenols and other antioxidants that may reduce inflammation.
- Has antimicrobial effects – Honey contains hydrogen peroxide and other compounds that inhibit bacterial growth.
- High sugar content – The concentrated sugar draws moisture into inflamed tissues.
- Acidic pH – The low pH of honey inhibits microbial growth.
- Soothes coughs – Honey can coat and soothe the throat, reducing coughs.
Research suggests that honey may be as effective or more effective than common cough medicines, especially for children. It provides a safe, plant-based alternative to medications.
What does the research say about honey for sore throats?
Several studies have examined the effects of honey on sore throat pain and duration:
|Randomized trial in 150 children age 2-18 with upper respiratory infections||1 dose of honey vs. no treatment||Honey improved cough frequency, severity, and sleep quality|
|Meta-analysis of 6 studies with over 900 adults and children||Honey vs. usual care or no treatment||Honey reduced duration of coughs by 1.5 days on average|
|Systematic review of 19 studies on honey and cough||Honey vs. placebos, antihistamines, expectorants||Honey provided greater cough relief than no treatment or antihistamines|
Overall, research indicates that honey can reduce cough and sore throat severity and duration. The antimicrobial effects may also help fight infection. More high-quality studies are still needed, but results have been consistently positive.
How to use honey for a sore throat
Raw honey is best for sore throats since it contains more active phytochemicals. Follow these tips for relief:
- Take 1-2 teaspoons straight or mix into a hot drink like tea.
- Slowly allow the honey to coat the throat and swallow gradually.
- Repeat every 2-3 hours as needed for coughs or pain.
- Give children over 1 year old 1/2 to 1 teaspoon doses.
- Choose manuka honey for added antibacterial power.
- Avoid giving honey to infants under 1 year due to risk of botulism.
For maximum benefit, use honey consistently at the first signs of a sore throat rather than just when symptoms worsen. Preferably choose raw, unprocessed honey for higher antioxidant content.
Does honey work right away for sore throat?
The soothing effects of honey on the throat can typically be felt within 5-10 minutes of swallowing. However, the anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties take longer to have an effect. It may take:
- 30-60 minutes to notice a reduction in throat pain or coughing
- 2-3 days of consistent use to significantly improve symptoms
- Up to 1 week for symptoms to resolve completely
Honey is not an instant cure, but can help relieve pain and shorten the duration of sore throats when used regularly. Have patience and allow it to work over several days.
How much honey should you take for a sore throat?
There is no standardized dosage, but these general guidelines can help:
- Adults: Take 1-2 teaspoons every 2-3 hours as needed.
- Children ages 2-12: Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon every 2-4 hours.
- Children under 2: Not recommended due to botulism risk.
- Severe sore throat: Can take up to 1 tablespoon at a time.
- Mild sore throat: Start with 1 teaspoon doses.
Take into account the severity of symptoms. Limit doses for children to avoid choking hazard from excess honey sticking to the throat. For mild cases, smaller doses may be sufficient to provide relief.
Risks and precautions
Honey is generally very safe when used appropriately. But a few precautions are warranted:
- Infant botulism risk – Honey should not be given to children under 1 year due to risk of botulism poisoning.
- Allergy risk – Those with pollen or bee allergies should use caution with honey.
- Diabetics – The carbohydrate content can affect blood sugar regulation.
- Bacterial infections – Consult a doctor before using honey with illnesses like strep throat.
- Dosage – Excessive honey consumption can cause nausea or vomiting.
When in doubt, consult a pediatrician or physician before using honey, especially for babies and with underlying health conditions. While rare, honey can pose health risks if used inappropriately.
The bottom line
Honey has been used traditionally around the world to soothe sore throats and coughs. Modern research data supports its ability to coat the throat, fight infection, and reduce coughing. While not a cure on its own, honey can provide safe, plant-based relief when paired with proper rest and medical care if needed. Drink warm honey water or tea and allow its soothing properties to help ease throat irritation.