I’m often amazed by the lack of knowledge of parents about the medications they give their babies. Many parents don’t know why they give the medication, what it’s good for, or even bother remembering the medication’s name.


Here is something doctors and pharmacists won’t tell you; most cough medications don’t really work.


Coughing is one of the most common reasons for doctors’ visits. And as common as it is, sometimes it can be difficult to diagnose the cause:


1) Infections


The most common cause of cough in children and adults are infections of the respiratory system (nose, sinuses, throat, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia) and the most common of them are viral infections, causing cold or flu symptoms. Viral infections do not respond to antibiotics but unfortunately, many children with simple colds still receive them. Bacterial infections are less common (sinusitis, throat infections, pneumonia, pertussis.)


2) Post-Viral Syndrome


Some children might continue coughing for several weeks even after the viral infection has resolved. The cause is not clear, and usually the cough gradually improves with time.


3) Environmental Factors


Air pollution is one of the most common causes of chronic respiratory problems — children exposed to air pollution will suffer from chronic stuffy or runny nose, chronic sinusitis, chronic cough and a higher risk for asthma, allergies and enlarged adenoids and tonsils, which make everything worse.


Saigon and Hanoi are among the top most polluted cities in the world and if you live in either city and don’t cough, something is wrong with your lungs. Construction sites are everywhere and if you happen to live next to one, you and your children are bound to suffer. I had quite a few little patients who suffered from persistent asthma that was very difficult to control until the construction near their homes was finally over. Living near a busy highway or road will also take its toll on yours and your children’s lungs.


4) Smoking


Children of smoking parents suffer much more from respiratory problems, infections and asthma than children of non-smoking parents. So if you or your husband/wife are smokers — you are going to see your paediatrician quite often.


5) Asthma


Asthma is one of the most common causes of cough. More than 10% of children suffer from asthma and still, it’s one of the most misdiagnosed conditions. It can be mistaken for bronchitis, bronchiolitis or pneumonia.


Many parents (and doctors) think that asthma always comes with wheezing or breathing difficulties. Actually, the most common symptom of asthma is just a cough, a prolonged cough, and when you listen to the child’s lungs they may be clear. Asthma does not respond to regular cough or allergy medications, and some may even worsen asthma (e.g. cough suppressants)


When do we need to suspect asthma?


— If the child often suffers from prolonged coughs

— If the child is repeatedly diagnosed with pneumonia or bronchitis

— Coughs that tend to get worse at night-time are typical of asthma.

— Coughs that are triggered by running, exercise or even laughing

— If the child has other atopic conditions (atopic dermatitis; allergic rhinitis)

— If there is a family history of allergies, eczema or asthma

— If a member of family is a smoker. Even if a parent smokes outside, the child is still exposed to smoke particles and has a higher risk of developing asthma

— If a child lives in a highly polluted environment (like Saigon or Hanoi). Children who live near busy roads have a higher risk of developing asthma and other respiratory disorders

— A child born via C-section has a 37% higher risk of developing asthma and allergies

— If the child had a history of wheezing, breathing difficulties or treatment with inhalations or steroids in the past


If your child has any of these factors and he or she is suffering from a prolonged cough — asthma may be the cause.


Dr. Jonathan Halevy is a senior paediatrician at the Family Medical Practice (FMP) in Ho Chi Minh City. For more info on FMP visit vietnammedicalpractice.com

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