When a child is coughing, the entire family shares the experience. If a child does not sleep, the parents don’t sleep. We all know how difficult it is to get through the day without a good night’s sleep. When your child has a continual cough and it’s affecting their day-to-day life – and yours (!) - that is a common reason to schedule a doctor’s appointment.
Chronic cough is typically defined as a cough lasting more than four weeks. This is because most acute respiratory infections in children, such as the common cold, resolve within this time frame.
There are many possible causes of childhood coughing. Infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia cause coughing. A sinus infection or allergy resulting in postnasal drip can cause coughing. Some children develop a throat irritation after a respiratory infection and this results in a chronic cough.
However, in some children, chronic cough can be the most prominent symptom of asthma. In most cases, there are additional symptoms of wheezing, runny eyes or nose, or shortness of breath during running or other vigorous physical activity. The cough associated with asthma is typically dry. A wet cough does not exclude asthma, but should also raise the possibility of bacterial bronchitis or a foreign body that has been inhaled and lodged in the larynx or trachea.
Depending on the age of your child, as well as the severity and duration of symptoms, when you go to the doctor, the evaluation may include a spirometry or breathing test, chest x-ray and/or a trial of asthma medications for two to four weeks, followed by a reevaluation. Another option is to treat with a short course of an oral steroid medication such as prednisolone/prednisone, for three to five days. If the cough is due to asthma, this trial should result in a dramatic improvement. However, a response to the above therapies does not mean that the diagnosis of asthma is correct. Often a nonspecific cough unrelated to asthma gets better spontaneously. However, a lack of response to asthma medications usually is sufficient to exclude asthma. Importantly, asthma medication should not be continued unless the diagnosis of asthma can be made with confidence.
The asthma specialists at Advanced Specialty Care in Fairfield County, CT will work with you and your child to find out the source of the chronic cough. To set up an appointment in Norwalk, Danbury, Ridgefield, or New Milford, call 203-748-7433.