Can a sliced brown onion really stop your child coughing at night?

Does this old wives' tale actually work? We investigate with the help of family GP Dr Philippa Kaye

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We do love testing parenting hacks, so when we heard a mum on our team announce that a sliced brown onion appeared to stop her child from coughing at night, we wanted to investigate.

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She told us: “My 4-year-old daughter has had a cough and cold on and off since November 2017.

“A few days ago, literally all she did was cough. Having already tried vapour rub on her feet and breathing in steam, she just couldn’t stop.

“When I told a friend about my daughter’s coughing, she asked: ‘Have you done the onion in the bedroom?’

“I didn’t believe her, but she was adamant that it helped her daughter who couldn’t stop coughing. She explained you take a regular brown skinned onion, slice it in half and put it in the bedroom with your child – near but safely out of reach.

“We were desperate, and willing to try anything, so we sliced an onion and stuck it under our daughter’s bed, parallel to her head.

“Yes it did stink, and took a few days for the smell to go, and lots of airing the bedroom. But, that night, she had periods of hours between the coughing.

“She did still cough, but she also had large chunks of sleep in between, whereas the nights before the onion, she was coughing all night.

“Right now, the cough isn’t so bad, so no need for the onion. But if it happens again, I’ll grab an onion.”

We should say that another team member says she swears by boiling garlic in water and giving the garlic water to her nieces and nephews to drink (once it’s cooled) if they have coughs.

The expert doctor’s opinion

Family GP Dr Philippa Kaye tells us: “There can be some truth to the remedies of old wives’ tales or folklore, often passed down in families – but there is little scientific evidence backing up the use of either onions or garlic for coughing in babies.

“Both onions and garlic have been used around the world in medications for centuries, but unfortunately there isn’t evidence for a chopped onion in the room curing a cough, though it is unlikely to do any harm!

“There is some evidence about the health benefits of garlic for heart problems and other conditions but, again, not to treat a cough.

“And I am not sure I would be able to convince any of my children to drink garlic water!”

Have your say

Has anything like this ever worked for your coughing child? We’d love to know, in the comments below or on Facebook

Dr Philippa Kaye is a London GP who has written several books on pregnancy and childcare including The First Five Years. See www.drphilippakaye.com and follow her on twitter @drphilippakaye

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