Any parent of an asthmatic child knows the cough associated with an asthmatic episode. They also know that this cough may cause more issues than the wheezing and shortness of breath typically associated with asthma.
The incessant coughing can keep the child, and the parents, up at night. It can also stop the child from doing typical childhood activities, especially when it comes to physical activity.
When the cough is the only sign of asthma, in lieu of more typical wheezing and shortness of breath, this is cough-variant asthma. This type of asthma is usually associated with children and is characterized by a dry, non-phlegm-producing cough.
The coughing can occur day or night and is often exacerbated by cold weather, season allergies, strong scents, exercise or any other asthmatic trigger.
Cough-variant asthma is often tough to diagnose since the cough is the only symptom. Sometimes the cough is associated with post-nasal drip (a runny nose) or with bronchitis. Often this type of asthma is diagnosed when it is shown that asthma medication (fast-acting inhalers and steroid pills and inhalers) help to curb the cough.
A doctor might also give a methacholine challenge to patients who they suspect have cough-variant asthma.
When patients are given a methacholine aerosol mist, their airways narrow, mimicking what happens during a asthma attack. The patients take a spirometry, which measures the lung capacity of the patient, before and after the methacholine challenge.
If the lung capacity goes down by 20 percent or more after the methacholine is administered, then the doctor can assume that the child has asthma.
Once it has been diagnosed that cough-variant asthma is present, "classic" asthma medication, such as an albuterol inhaler and/or anti-inflammatory steroids, should help alleviate the cough over time. Experts suggest that there should be gradual improvement in six to eight weeks.
It is important to note that proper management of all kinds of asthma is imperative, as this is a potentially fatal disease.
While the quick-acting inhaler can provide relief from asthma symptoms like the persistent cough, it should not be overly relied upon.
If a child is using his/her quick-acting inhaler that means his/her asthma is not well-controlled. This can put the child at risk for a severe asthma attack, and should signal to parents that a change in the asthma treatment plan might be needed.
Webmd.com. Web. 10 Septemebr. "Cough-variant asthma."
Mayoclinic.org. Web. 10 September 2014. "Asthma in children."
Reviewed September 12, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith