Dear Pharmacist: My 5-year-old daughter has developed a persistent cough. Can you recommend something to help? – L.E., Seattle
Answer: Please make every effort to find out what’s causing that cough and see your pediatrician. Likely triggers include pet dander, pollen, mildew spores, perfumes or scented products, and even chemicals used in crafts. And be sure to ask your child what she thinks makes her cough. Here’s a good story.
A friend of mine had a persistent cough that developed every winter when she was a child. She kept telling her parents that she was coughing because it felt like she had hair in her throat. That was back in the days when every other child in America, it seemed, had a tonsillectomy.
Predictably, her pediatrician recommended a tonsillectomy.
To make a long story short, my friend had her tonsils removed. And it didn’t make a bit of difference. She kept on coughing, year after year, every winter.
As an adult, my friend had a light bulb go off inside her head. That cough really was from hair, or rather fur. Her mother used to cover her against the cold with a squirrel coat. She went to sleep every night with her face buried in the folds of that old fur coat — that old shedding fur coat. If her parents had only listened to her about the “hair,” she might have been spared the surgeon’s scalpel.
I don’t suggest use over-the-counter cough remedies for your child although cough drops are OK. That may sound like an odd recommendation coming from a pharmacist. But medical researchers have shown that most of the time they don’t work well on children, plus they can have some serious side effects. For example, in a 2007 study at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine groups of children with upper respiratory tract infections received either remedies containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan or a spoonful of honey or no treatment at all before going to bed.
Researchers had parents report on both coughing and whether the child got a good night’s sleep. Guess which remedy won the day? That old-fashioned, tried-and-true remedy — a teaspoon of honey. Here’s what the researchers said: “Parents rated honey most favorably for symptomatic relief of their child’s nocturnal cough and sleep difficulty due to upper respiratory tract infection.”
You should never give honey to children under the age of one or two, there’s even debate on that. It may trigger allergic reactions in very young children and has been associated with various toxins, depending on the type of honey. However, let me be clear that you should also never give cough suppressant medication to young children either, unless recommended by a pediatrician because they can slow breathing.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For more information about Suzy Cohen, visit her website at www.suzycohen.com.