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Chronic Cough in Children

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Authored by Nickie Fleming in Child and Teen Health 
Published on 02-21-2009

Every year, a good 30 million patients visits the doctor for his or her cough. In the United States, more than 600 million dollar are spent on medications for cough.

If we cough, it is mainly to protect our body from infections. The coughing gets rid of mucus, irritating substances and infections from the respiratory tract and airways.

Parents should not immediately worry when their child begins to cough. A normal child can usually cough 1 to 34 times a day, which means nothing. You should only start worrying when the coughing lasts more than four weeks, or if your child start to cough after going to bed. This is almost always abnormal and you should seek medical attention.

A chronic cough in children can derive from various causes. The most common include:

  1. Cough as a symptom of asthma, which can be made worse by viral infections. It is a common symptom in children of all ages and should be treated with the same medicines used for all asthma patients.
  2. Cough caused by a nasal or sinus disease, often together with nasal congestion and a runny nose. Depending on the severity of this, your doctor may not use prescribe medicines, but advise you to do a sinus X-ray or limited CT-scan of the sinuses. This is very common in children aged 18 months to six years old.
  3. Cough caused by the stomach and food tube (esophagus). This is usually due to gastro- esophageal reflux (GERD) and often associated with a sense of heartburn. Other children may develop a hoarse voice. It is imperative that you should go and see a doctor, who’ll do a trial for GERD, while X-rays and other tests may also be needed. In very young children, these symptoms usually present themselves just after eating.

Of course, there are also other causes of chronic cough.

  • Post viral cough, due to increased sensitivity at the cough trigger points. It may occur in children who don’t have asthma, an allergy or sinusitis. There is no specific therapy and the dough eventually resolves on its own.
  • An inhaled foreign body, such as a piece of a plastic toy or part of a peanut, etc. It can be accidentally inhaled at any age, but is most common in boys (aged two to four years). It can cause of cough that can last for a long time, until it is discovered.
  • Habit cough, with no physical cause. It occurs most commonly in children, adolescents and young adult and worries the parents more than the child. Habit cough won’t occur once the child goes to sleep.
  • Irritant cough, caused by exposure to tobacco smoke and other exhausts. This may worsen cases of asthma. The only thing for the child is to avoid these substances.

The primary treatment for chronic cough is to find the underlying cause: asthma, GERD, rhinitis or sinusitis. Medicines over-the-counter are of limited benefit. Better see a doctor and have him prescribe the necessary treatment.

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