Treating the Common Cough: Over the Counter or Home Remedies?


Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, founder of the Pharmacist Moms Group, said she believes that every situation is different when it comes to choosing the best remedy for children.

Treating a child’s cough can be a difficult task, and in the past, many health professionals might advise one to simply visit the drug store to solve this problem. However, in recent years, there has been more speculation on the efficiency of over-the-counter (OTC) medications versus using alternative therapies, such as honey, to relieve a cough.

Pediatrician Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, says not to believe in the “promising” labels you see in the drug stores, and feels that the shelves of kids’ cough medicine at the pharmacy are more about marketing than good medicine.1

“If you make it, some people are going to buy it,” Shu toldNPR.2“That’s why you see a lot of products on shelves that may not be necessary or even safe for kids.”

Some studies have demonstrated that certain OTC cough syrups can cause major adverse effects in children and are known to contain cough suppressants or an antihistamine in the ingredients.1,2Another study has found honey to be preferable treatment for cough and related sleep difficulty in children.3

Home remedies come from a historical background, as many people would use spices and herbs to cure issues with hair, skin, or diet before current medicine was prevalent. Still, this all-natural approach comes with trial-and-error, with its beneficial properties varying from person to person, according to health experts.

“It’s something you have to look into, research, and experiment with to see what works for you,” Sanna Naveed, a biomedical sciences sophomore at Arizona State University, said in an interview withThe State Press,a student-run news organization.4“But even still, they are cheaper than many store-bought medicines and products.”

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, founder of the Pharmacist Moms Group, said she believes that every situation is different when it comes to choosing the best remedy for children. Soliman explained in an email toPharmacy Times® that there are 2 important pieces to understanding the difference of when to use a treatment like honey versus pharmacological medications.

The first piece is to truly know your patient. “There are many parents who would prefer to try something natural first, and that is completely understandable. As a mom, I can definitely relate,” Soliman said. “There are then times when you need to use the medication and that is when I would recommend something pharmacological.”

The second piece that Soliman recommends is to truly know your medicines. “We know as health care providers that natural medications are not regulated by the FDA, so we have to be wary of which products we recommend and make educated and wise decisions,” Soliman said.

Nevertheless, even with many remedy options, health experts still highly recommend taking preventive measures to avoid future sickness, such as getting the flu vaccine.2

“Not just your children, but the whole family, because with the adults being immunized you lessen the likelihood that there'll be intense household exposure," said Bud Weidermann, infectious disease specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington D.C., in a statement toNPR.1"Don't go to work if you're sick; don't go to school if you're sick — you're just spreading your virus to other people."


  1. For Kid’s Coughs, Swap the Over-The-Counter Syrups for Honey.NPR. Published February 8, 2020. Accessed February 17, 2020.
  2. Paul I, Yoder KE, Crowell KR, et al. Effect of Dextromethorphan, Diphenhydramine, and Placebo on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents.PediatricsJuly 2004, 114 (1) e85-e90; DOI: Accessed February 18, 2020.
  3. Cohen HA, Rozen J, Kristal H,et al.Effect of Honey on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study.PediatricsSeptember 2012, 130 (3) 465-471; DOI: Accessed February 18, 2020.
  4. Venkatakrishnan, R. Using home remedies versus prescription and over-the-counter medication.The State Press. Published February 15, 2018. Accessed February 17, 2020.

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