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Cough. 2005 Sep 20;1:7.

Cough: are children really different to adults?

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Dept of Respiratory Medicine, Royal Children's Hospital, Brisbane, Queensland 4029, Australia.


Worldwide paediatricians advocate that children should be managed differently from adults. In this article, similarities and differences between children and adults related to cough are presented. Physiologically, the cough pathway is closely linked to the control of breathing (the central respiratory pattern generator). As respiratory control and associated reflexes undergo a maturation process, it is expected that the cough would likewise undergo developmental stages as well. Clinically, the 'big three' causes of chronic cough in adults (asthma, post-nasal drip and gastroesophageal reflux) are far less common causes of chronic cough in children. This has been repeatedly shown by different groups in both clinical and epidemiological studies. Therapeutically, some medications used empirically for cough in adults have little role in paediatrics. For example, anti-histamines (in particular H1 antagonists) recommended as a front-line empirical treatment of chronic cough in adults have no effect in paediatric cough. Instead it is associated with adverse reactions and toxicity. Similarly, codeine and its derivatives used widely for cough in adults are not efficacious in children and are contraindicated in young children. Corticosteroids, the other front-line empirical therapy recommended for adults, are also minimally (if at all) efficacious for treating non-specific cough in children. In summary, current data support that management guidelines for paediatric cough should be different to those in adults as the aetiological factors and treatment in children significantly differ to those in adults.

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