Ekanem Ekure, Associate Professor, Department of Paediatrics, College of Medicine, University of Lagos & Honorary Consultant, Lagos University Teaching Hospital spoke with GERALDINE AKUTU on what triggers cough in children and how to deal with it.
What causes cough in children?
Cough is a natural mechanism, which helps to protect the airways. For example, if you walk into a room with fumes, you suddenly start to cough, even though you previously did not have cough. There are, however, many causes of cough in children, which can result in serious ill health, if not properly treated. Some of these causes include, viral infections of the respiratory tract, allergies, asthma, whooping cough, pneumonia and foreign bodies in the airway.
Is it normal for a child to cough a lot?
Frequent episodes of cough may be a pointer to an underlying problem in the lungs and so, it is not normal for a child to have frequent cough. A parent whose child is always coughing should see a paediatrician for evaluation.
Will coughing damage a child?s lung and chest?
This depends on the cause of the cough. For instance, a child who has been infected with a serious illness, such as, tuberculosis and has not been treated may have some damage to the lungs. Also, an asthmatic child whose symptoms are not well controlled may have some damage to the airways.
When should parents see a doctor about a child coughing?
Most children, especially those younger than five years will have what we call upper respiratory tract infections caused most of the time by viruses and are usually mild, lasting a few days. These children present with cough and catarrh and may not require a visit to the doctor, as it usually resolves without treatment. However, when a cough is associated with fever, fast breathing or difficulty with breathing, the child should be taken to see a doctor immediately. Also, if a child has prolonged cough, cough associated with snoring or noisy breathing, that child should see a doctor.
If a child does not sleep well because of coughing, what should parents do?
The parents should take the child to see a doctor for evaluation to find out the cause. One of the reasons a child may have difficulty sleeping is because of a condition referred to as adenoidal hypertrophy, which means that the adenoids are enlarged and blocking the airways through which we normally breath. A child who has this condition may snore a lot, while sleeping and not sleep well at night. So, you find that the child is sleeping a lot during the daytime. Another cause of cough that may disturb sleep is asthma.
How can parents know if a child?s cough is related to asthma?
A parent can suspect asthma in their child, if that child has recurrent episodes of cough, wheezing and difficulty with breathing, especially after being exposed to certain allergens such as dust, pollen and fumes. This suspicion should be heightened, if a parent, sibling or relative has allergies or is known to be asthmatic. However, it is important that a child suspected to have asthma be evaluated by a paediatrician or a medical doctor to confirm the diagnosis and treat appropriately.
Is there any home remedy for coughing?
This depends on the cause of the cough. Infections, such as, pneumonia, tuberculosis and other serious causes of cough require evaluation in a hospital and in some instances hospitalisation. Remedies, such as, honey can be given to children older than one year with cough from viral upper respiratory tract infection. Taking lots of fluids, and rest may also help with common cold.