Asthma or not? Cough in children with asthma

A cough is likely due to asthma if it refuses to go away for days, weeks, or months, worsens at night or early in the morning, or comes and goes without warning.

Coughing is even more likely due to asthma if the child also suffers from a chronic, rough skin rash called eczema, or if a parent or other close relative has asthma.

Children and adolescents can develop asthma at any age. Therefore, no matter at what age that cough started, the recognition that the child might have an underlying asthma condition is essential.

Unfortunately, many parents are reluctant to accept a diagnosis of asthma, a dilemma that leads to unnecessary pain and suffering, delays in treatment, and even death. For parents who cannot come to term with their child with asthma, I have good news: a cough due to asthma improves quickly with the right medications. Also, children can outgrow asthma with age.

Why do people suffer from asthma

People with asthma have sensitive and hypersensitive lungs, in the same way that people with eczema have sensitive skin.

A sensitive lung can spasm or constrict at any time. The spasm narrows the tiny air channels, limiting airflow into the lungs and suddenly making it difficult for people with asthma to breathe. During an episode of this type of asthma attack, patients may experience shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, rapid breathing, and chest tightness or discomfort.

Wheezing is a high-pitched musical sound that occurs in the chest of someone who is having an asthma attack. When it is loud, close people can hear it; but at other times it can only be heard by doctors listening to the chest with a stethoscope.

Asthma triggers

Cold or runny nose with its concomitant viral infection, cold weather, pets like cats and dogs, dust, dirt, roaches, pollutants, paint fumes, perfumes, mold, grass, pollen and cigarette smoke can trigger already sensitive lungs in an episode of coughing and wheezing. Exercise, in addition to emotions, also triggers coughing and shortness of breath in people with sensitive lungs.

Cough as a sign of asthma

Coughing, a common problem, is one of the many signs of asthma. Parents and caregivers take children to doctors when the cough continues for many days and is not resolved with cough syrup. Coughing is annoying for children; it can prevent them from sleeping at night or during the day, it can make them vomit, it can make them afraid to eat and even cause them to lose weight. When a cough and fever go together in a child, a more sinister illness like pneumonia comes to mind.

Severity of asthma

When evaluating a child with asthma, it is important to assess the severity of the symptoms. Some children have the intermittent form of asthma, while others have the persistent form.

People with the irregular form of asthma experience symptoms from time to time. Those who have a persistent form experience degrees of symptoms more frequently, usually weekly or daily, and sometimes even several times a day.

Examination of children with asthma.

Doctors look for signs of distress when they are presented with a child with an acute asthma attack. Inward and outward pulling of the chest muscles in a patient, or ‘retraction’, indicates hunger for air and agony.

When there is no obvious wheezing, chest retraction, or spontaneous cough, I tend to ask the child, if he is old and comfortable enough, to cough out loud so that I can hear him.

By sound, you can often tell where the cough is coming from: from the throat, pharynx, or deep in the chest. The latter would mean that the lungs are the source of the problem and therefore indicative of asthma. This distinction is important.

Respiratory rate, temperature, pulse rate, and oxygen saturation are some of the vital signs obtained at the time of the first exam.

Asthma diagnosis

Doctors can diagnose asthma in a patient who has a cough by listening to the chest with a stethoscope. A high-pitched musical sound, known as wheezing, suggests this condition. When a patient’s symptoms are relieved with the use of a bronchodilator, such as albuterol, the diagnosis is almost certain.

Asthma medications

Medications for the treatment of asthma, known as bronchodilators, aim to open the narrow airways so that air can enter the lungs. Another group of drugs called ‘inhaled steroids’ reduces mucus production and inflammation in the small air channels. People with frequent asthma attacks should use both drugs. Doctors should explain the details of use.

Asthma prevention and control

Prevention is the key to containing asthma. People with the condition should avoid known environmental triggers; Some of the better known allergens have already been mentioned: dust, cats, dogs, smoke, cockroaches, etc. Different asthmatics can have different triggers.

An asthma action plan is a set of steps that, when completed by doctors, guides patients on how to use their medication before and during symptoms, and what to do when symptoms do not improve. There is also a section that tells users how to control things in their environment that make their asthma worse.

Why do people die of asthma?

Two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, in the US reported that 187 children under the age of 18 had died that year as a result of asthma.

I suppose the number of children who die from asthma every day in the inner cities of underdeveloped countries like Onitsha in Nigeria, where pollution is on every corner and people breathe air mixed with smoke, dirt and dust, is uncountable.

Simple measures like avoiding asthma triggers and immediate use of asthma medications would prevent many unnecessary deaths. Lack of recognition of the disease is the most heartbreaking and obvious reason for the high numbers. Furthermore, lack of access to much-needed medicines, as well as the delay in seeking expert medical intervention, are often to blame.


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, but is simply based on the author’s experience. Readers should consult their physician before implementing any part of the suggestions.

Written by Anselm Anyoha

September 6, 2020
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