Below, we explore the research behind using honey for asthma. We also describe the risks involved.
Does honey treat asthma symptoms?
Honey increases saliva production, which may reduce coughing and throat irritation.
It appears that honey may have some benefits for people with asthma. It may be especially effective at controlling coughing.
Honey increases saliva production. As saliva lubricates the airways and reduces irritation in the throat, a cough can diminish.
Honey also has anti-inflammatory properties and may decrease the swelling of the airways that accompanies asthma.
The health department of the University of California, Los Angeles recommends that adults take 2 teaspoons of honey at bedtime to reduce coughing.
Evidence has not supported other theories about honey as a treatment for asthma.
For example, some proponents of honey for asthma claim that this method may help to desensitize an individual to pollen. Pollen is a common allergen that can trigger asthma attacks.
What does the research say?
Most relevant research has tested the effectiveness of honey as a cough suppressant.
It is important to note that many of these studies explored the effects of honey on upper respiratory infections, not asthma, though the two conditions can have similar symptoms.
Children who took honey had relief from nighttime coughing, which resulted in improved sleep.
A review from 2012 looked at results of two clinical trials that included a total of 265 children with acute coughs.
When comparing the effectiveness of honey and cough suppressants, researchers found that honey was as effective or slightly more effective than diphenhydramine or dextromethorphan, two common ingredients in cough suppressants. Honey was also better able to treat a cough than no treatment at all.
Most studies involved honey taken orally, but an animal study from 2014 tested whether inhaled honey could reduce asthma symptoms. Results indicated that honey was effective. However, additional research is needed in humans.
While taking 1 or 2 teaspoons of honey is usually safe for most people, there are a few exceptions.
Botulism is a rare type of poisoning caused by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Botulism may cause vomiting, trouble breathing, and paralysis, and it can be life-threatening. It is primarily transmitted through contaminated soil and food.
Honey can contain botulism spores. While the natural defenses in adults and older children stop the bacteria from growing, infants have weaker immune systems, and spores they consume can grow and release toxins. Pasteurizing honey does not remove the risk of botulism. Infants under 12 months should not have honey.
People can also be allergic to honey. This allergy is usually related to the honey’s contamination with pollen, not bee venom. A person who is allergic to bee stings is not necessarily allergic to honey.
As honey is produced, it may become contaminated with pollen from trees and other plants. Someone with a pollen allergy may experience symptoms when they eat honey.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction to honey include:
- watery eyes
- a runny nose
If the reaction is severe, it can lead to wheezing, a feeling of tightness in the chest, and difficulty breathing. A severe allergic reaction is a medical emergency and requires immediate care.
Other treatments for asthma
Being exposed to an allergen may trigger asthma symptoms.
Honey may help to ease some symptoms of asthma, but honey alone cannot manage asthma effectively.
Additional treatments may include:
Decreasing exposure to allergens
Asthma is closely associated with allergies. In some instances, coming into contact with an allergen can trigger asthma symptoms.
Identifying allergens can help a person to avoid future exposure. For example, a person with a pollen allergy should limit the time they spend outdoors and close their windows on days when the pollen count is high.
Smoking is especially harmful to people with asthma. Smoking damages the cilia, which are hair-like fibers in the airway.
People with asthma already have sensitive airways, and damage sustained by smoking can make breathing even more difficult.
Using an inhaler
To treat symptoms that arise suddenly, people often use inhalers containing a bronchodilator. These medications relax the tightened muscles in the airways, making breathing easier.
Some asthma inhalers contain medicines developed to prevent asthma symptoms.
A doctor may prescribe long-term bronchodilators and corticosteroid inhalers for daily use to keep asthma symptoms at bay.
A little honey may help to ease coughing in children and adults with asthma, but it should not be given to infants.
Research does not indicate that honey is an alternative to asthma medications.
Honey can be purchased in many grocery stores, health food stores, and online.
Anyone noticing asthma symptoms should talk with a doctor. Effective treatments are available.
Asthma attacks can be severe, and it is essential to follow a plan prescribed by a doctor.