By Sherri Gordon | Updated on January 18, 2023 | Medically reviewed by Teja Dyamenahalli, MD, MPH, FAAP
With allergies impacting 20 to 30% of the world’s population, it is not surprising that parents are looking for additional ways to treat seasonal allergies.1 Often at the top of their list of things to try is locally-sourced honey.
“There is some thought that, much like allergy shots, using raw locally-sourced honey would help a person desensitize to allergens,” says Sarah Adams, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital.
But just how effective is that approach? Here we take a look at how impactful this natural remedy might—or might not—be. Read on to hear what experts say, including whether or not honey is safe to give your child.
Honey’s Impact on Allergies
Most of the time, allergies are treated with antihistamines, corticosteroids, biologics, and allergen immunotherapy (or allergy shots). But there is growing interest in the use of honey to treat seasonal allergies. This is largely because honey has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-microbial properties that could potentially impact allergic diseases.2
“Very little research has been done, and information is mostly anecdotal,” says David Berger, MD, a board-certified pediatrician and founder of health education company, Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care. “However, I have seen it work in my practice. The idea is that when local bees go out into the community and bring pollen back to the hive, the honey made contains small amounts of the local pollens that are causing allergic reactions.”
There is limited evidence on the impact of honey on allergies—specifically allergic rhinitis—but one small study found that ingesting honey could potentially improve symptoms and serve as a complementary therapy for allergy sufferers. What researchers discovered is that when used with an antihistamine, honey significantly improved symptoms such as itching, sneezing, and runny nose. But the same reduction in symptoms was not seen in participants that used only antihistamines.3
Very little research has been done and information is mostly anecdotal. However, I have seen it work in my practice.
— DAVID BERGER, MD
According to Dr. Berger, this phenomenon may be due to propolis, an ingredient found in raw honey, which contains anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy properties.4 However, he notes that unprocessed or raw, locally-sourced honey will only reduce the impact of allergens if those allergens are present in that honey.
“For example, if a person is allergic to something that comes from a tree or a grass, bees do not pollinate those plants,” he explains. “Ingesting the honey from those bees may do nothing for those allergies. The same is true for indoor or food allergens.”
There also is some limited research that Manuka honey may be a useful treatment for atopic dermatitis, which is an inflammatory skin disease characterized by intense itching and rashes that impacts 10 to 20% of children. During this study, adult participants applied Manuka honey to one area of their skin overnight for seven consecutive days while leaving other areas untreated.5
At the end of the seven days, the researchers noted that the atopic dermatitis lesions had improved significantly. And although the study was small, they concluded that honey has potential therapeutic value in treating atopic dermatitis.5
It is important to note that this study included a narrow sampling of people, none of which were children. If you are interested in using honey on your child’s atopic dermatitis, you should talk with a healthcare provider first, such as their pediatrician, allergist, or dermatologist.
Can My Child Have Honey?
When it comes to using honey to treat allergies, this is a decision best made in collaboration with a healthcare provider, especially because children younger than 1 year old cannot have honey. And although rare, some people are allergic to honey.6
“According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, honey should not be given to children under 1 year old because of concerns about infant botulism,” says Dr. Adams. “Bacteria can contaminate honey, which is dangerous to infants with immature digestive systems.7 For children over the age of 1 year there is very little harm in giving them honey to soothe symptoms such as cough or sore throat.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, honey should not be given to children under 1 year old because of concerns about infant botulism. Bacteria can contaminate honey, which is dangerous to infants with immature digestive systems.
— SARAH ADAMS, MD, FAAP
It also is very uncommon for children that young to have seasonal allergies, says Farah N. Khan, MD, an allergist, immunologist, and assistant professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. If your young child is consistently displaying symptoms that appear to be allergies, this should lead to a bigger conversation with their pediatrician.
“There are some misconceptions around seasonal allergies and kids,” Dr. Khan adds. “It would be very unusual for a child less than 1 year old to have an allergy. Typically, kids need to see pollen at least twice before they get sensitized and it manifests into physical symptoms.”
That said, local honey is usually a safe food, says Dr. Berger assuming your child is older than 1 year, not allergic to it, and does not have an underlying medical condition like diabetes, which would make it a less than ideal treatment option. But he urges parents to make any decisions in conjunction with a healthcare provider who knows your child’s medical history.
“According to the AAAAI (American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology) ‘natural’ does not always mean safe,” explains Malika Gupta, MD, FACAAI, FAAAAI, FAAP, a board certified allergist and immunologist. “For people with allergies or asthma, this difference can pose real risks.”
How Can I Use Honey to Help With Allergies?
According to Dr. Gupta, there are no formal guidelines for use of honey as a therapeutic for allergies. That said, you can experiment with honey as long as your child is older than 1 year old and does not have a condition that would make eating honey unsafe. If you are unsure about whether or not your child can have honey, please consult with their pediatrician or healthcare provider before proceeding.
Dr. Berger has created a particular method for treating seasonal allergies with honey. “I have developed [this protocol] based on my clinical experience,” he says. “Start by taking 1/4 teaspoon of local, seasonal, wildflower honey orally, once daily. Increase the amount of honey by 1/4 teaspoon every two days, working up to 1 tablespoon of honey per 50 pounds of the person’s weight.”
For example, a child weighing 100 pounds should try to work up to 2 tablespoons of honey daily, which can be divided throughout the day if you want, he says. Continue taking the honey throughout the allergy season.
“If possible, the person consuming the honey should move the honey around the oral cavity for a few moments before swallowing, and try to delay drinking any liquids for a few minutes afterward,” Dr. Berger says.
Additionally, he suggests that your child consume honey harvested in the season when their allergies occur, beginning a few weeks before the season begins. So, if your child’s allergies typically appear in the spring, you want to purchase locally-sourced honey that was harvested in the spring. Labels typically list whether the honey was harvested in the spring, summer, or fall.
“If your child is a toddler, it is also important to make sure [that the honey] is not too thick or causes them to choke or aspirate if they swallow it,” Dr. Adams says. “In this case, I recommend thinning out the honey in a little warm water.”
She also advises that parents read labels thoroughly so that they know where the honey is coming from and how it is produced. You also should make sure it does not contain any other ingredients. Keep in mind that while it is fine to try honey as a treatment method for allergies or their accompanying symptoms—like a sore throat or cough—there is not a lot of strong evidence that it will always be effective. As always, your best bet is to consult with your child’s pediatrician or healthcare provider when trying to manage symptoms.
“Remember that allergies can manifest very differently—even in siblings who are allergic,” Dr. Gupta says. “What works for one child may not work for another. Understanding the indications of any therapy as well as any risks and benefits is key to good decision making.”
A Word From Verywell
Using honey to treat ailments like allergies is not a new concept. In fact, honey has been used to treat everything from wounds to sore throats for years. That said, if you are considering using honey alongside your child’s allergy medications to treat their symptoms, this is best done in collaboration with their pediatrician or an allergist.
Consulting with a healthcare provider is especially important because symptoms that appear to be allergy-related could actually be an indicator of a more serious illness. Together, you can agree on a treatment plan that can help your child find some relief from their itching, sneezing, and watering eyes.