Up With a Cough?

Your child could be down with asthma. Peak allergy and asthma season is upon us, and it can be hard to tell if it’s just a cough or more serious — until you land in the hospital. Here’s what you need to know.

Your child’s nagging, hacking cough that likes to pop up in the spring can play a trick on you. There’s no fever, the cough comes and goes, and it seems to be triggered by the getting-ready-for-bed routine.

Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s nothing serious, health officials warn. Frequent intermittent coughing — particularly at bedtime and first thing in the morning — is a classic sign of childhood asthma.

Asthma is responsible for more than 6,000 hospitalizations a year in Kentucky and nearly 3,000 deaths nationally. It is the most common diagnosis among hospitalized children and the leading cause of emergency room visits and missing school.

“Sometimes, seasonal allergies or the common cold can trigger asthma symptoms,” said Lesa Sutton-Davis, M.D., Norton Children’s Hospital Medical Group – Dixie. “It can be tricky for parents to know whether their child is coughing and wheezing from allergies, a cold or something else.”

“Nobody should be coughing at night for more than five or six days in a row,” said Beth VanCleave, R.N., asthma educator for Norton Children’s Hospital. “If your child has these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor.”

Your pediatrician will work with you to create an asthma management plan. He or she will recommend medications to control both long-term symptoms and emergency symptoms, frequently called “asthma attacks.” The doctor generally will decide what types of medications are needed based on your child’s specific symptoms and medical history.

The National Institutes of Health recommends that people who have asthma symptoms more than twice a week during the day or more than twice a month at night need both long-term medications to control asthma and prevent it from getting worse and quick-relief medications, such as an emergency inhaler.

Not keeping up with those medications can lead to trouble.

“One of the biggest issues we see is patients only taking their medication during peak asthma season,” Van Cleave said. “This makes asthma sufferers more prone to a surprise attack, which can land them in the hospital.”