Study Offers Solution To Help Kids Who Have Coughs Fall Asleep


Mon Oct 27, 2014 4:05pm EDT

(Reuters Health) - Babies with a nagging nighttime cough - and their parents - may benefit from a spoonful of agave nectar before bedtime, a new study shows.

In fact, Dr. Ian Paul of Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey found a placebo version of the nectar worked just as well as the real thing for improving cough and cold symptoms and helping kids, and their parents, sleep better.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now warns parents against using over-the-counter cough and cold medicines in children younger than two, because of safety concerns as well as the fact that there's no evidence these remedies work, Paul and his team point out in JAMA Pediatrics.

Honey has long been used in folk medicine to treat coughs and colds, and in a 2007 study Paul and his colleagues found honey was indeed an effective treatment for nighttime coughing in children over the age of a year.

But younger children aren't supposed to be given honey, due to concerns about botulism. “For those under age one there's nothing, and those are the kids of course that suffer the most when they have a cold,” Paul said in a telephone interview.

The researchers decided to test the effects of agave nectar after noticing it in the supermarket. “We used a certain kind of agave nectar that a company makes, but you can get plain agave nectar at pretty much every supermarket now,” he said.

The study included 125 children ages two months to 47 months. Parents had brought the children to the doctor for treatment of a nonspecific cough lasting seven days or less. The investigators randomly assigned children to receive grape-flavored agave nectar (Zarbee's, Inc.) or a grape-flavored caramel-colored placebo a half-hour before bedtime, or no treatment.

Parents filled out a survey about their child's symptoms the night before they were enrolled in the study and then on the night after. For all children, parents reported improvements in every symptom from one night to the next. However, the improvements were significantly greater in the kids who received agave nectar or placebo, compared to the children who got no treatment at all.

There was no difference in symptom improvement between the agave and placebo groups.

Paul and his colleagues conclude: “While it is somewhat disappointing that agave nectar does not appear to offer added benefit over a placebo, these findings suggest that the common clinical advice of watchful waiting with no treatment may not be the best advice for parents whose infants and toddlers are struggling with cough and its associated sleep disruption.”

SOURCE: and JAMA Pediatrics, online October 27, 2014.

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