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When your child has a cough it is usually fair to assume that it is the result of an infection and in most cases you will be right. You would probably be very surprised if a childrens respiratory specialist told you that there is nothing physically wrong with your child. However, this could be exactly what happens if your child has developed a habit cough.
Habit or psychogenic coughs are persistent coughs that don’t have a physical cause. The cough is usually a habit that has developed after an infection or another issue has caused the child to cough. The child simply keeps coughing after the initial cause has disappeared. Since the act of coughing can irritate the throat, this can be a self-reinforcing behaviour. Although there is usually no physical cause, it is important to realise that children aren’t coughing intentionally.
It is important to know when a cough is psychogenic as it could otherwise be confused with a condition like asthma. A misdiagnosis could result in the child taking unnecessary medication so it is a good idea to see a childrens respiratory specialist if a cough lasts more than a couple of weeks.
Signs of a habit cough include:
If your child has a persistent cough then it is a good idea to consult a childrens respiratory specialist even if you think it is a habit cough. The doctor will be able to rule out other causes such as asthma and advise you on the best way to manage psychogenic coughing. It is usually enough to talk to the child about why they are coughing and to encourage them to resist the urge for increasing amounts of time.