Is it a cough that just won't go away? Or is it asthma?

May 23, 2003

The Bottom Line There is more than one symptom for asthma. A cough is just as much a sign of asthma as wheezing and being unable to catch your breath.

I am not currently a doctor, nor have I ever been one. If you think you or your child may have asthma, please consult a physician immediately. Undiagnosed or misdiagnosed asthma can kill! Asthma is a very serious problem and needs to be taken as such.

The following is simply the story of my son and asthma and how he doesn't and didn't really have the typical wheezing symptom, but instead experience incessant coughing with a nearly unnoticeable wheeze on his exhale (the Doctor could hardly detect it).

When is a cough no longer just a cough? When are allergies no longer just allergies? I wish I knew the exact answers to those questions because I could have saved my son, my husband and myself much heartache and many sleepless nights.

My son has asthma

It started at the first of the year, though truth be told, looking back, I can easily see signs and symptoms from as long as a year ago. It just all sort of blended in together. The coughing, the getting so worked up at night from coughing that he'd vomit and then he'd miraculously be fine....

My then 4-year-old started Pre-Kindergarten in October of 2002. Once he started he got sick a lot, which was highly unusual for him. Up until that point we'd been very blessed as he'd only ever gotten the common cold once a year and had never even seen a Doctor for being sick - only for well baby/child check ups.

Since October 2002, my son would seem to get sick every other week. No kidding. He'd be sick for a few days and then he'd be fine. Usually it was obvious that he just a had a cold or whatever the current virus was that the kids were passing back and forth. But in January 2003, right around his fifth birthday, my sons illnesses started to seem different to me. It was like he just could not get well.

What had happened to my formerly very healthy son? Why was he getting sick so much? Why couldn't he get better?

It was right about then that the every other weekly visits to Doc in a Box started for us. I'm not one of those moms who makes a huge ordeal over their child when they're sick. Yes, I feel badly for my child when he's sick, and yes, I take care for him very well, but I don't go on and on about things and I don't exaggerate. It seems most Doctors (at least those we saw) naturally assumed that every parent who brought in their sick child was at least partly full of it. I wasn't. Something wasn't right. Sure, children can get sick frequently when they're first in school, I've heard it's normal, but this was ridiculous!

After two different rounds of antibiotics over the course of 3 months, countless visits to Doc in a Box, cough meds with codeine and several horrid strep tests (the worst thing in the world for a 5 year old) we finally saw a Doctor there who seemed to have a clue.

What about allergies?

She asked if our son had allergies. We responded with a strong yes. It's been obvious to us that our child has had seasonal allergies since he was around the age of 6 months (though at the time the Doctors told us that was impossible. Whatever.). My husband and I both have seasonal and other allergies; mine developed while pregnant with our son. Once the Doctor knew our son had allergies she said his cough that would simply not go away was due to allergies. His throat was clear, his chest was clear. His eyes were red, his nose was a little stuffy, he had rings under his eyes and he had a cough. She said it was probably from post nasal drip and to start him on Zyrtec.

Of course the insurance company wouldn't cover Zyrtec, which was fine with me since I didn't have a good experience with it when I tried it out years ago. We bought some Children's Claritin and started giving it to our son daily. Amazingly, it worked. The cough cleared up. It wasn't completely gone, but it wasn't keeping him or us up at night anymore. We could all sleep. It worked perfectly. For awhile.


The cough came back. It sounded a little different so we figured, oh no the kiddo is sick again. He didn't feel well, he'd just lay around and do nothing. He didn't want to eat some of the time and was always tired because his cough would keep him from sleeping. He missed a lot of Pre-Kindergarten and suffered needlessly.... if we'd only known.

Asthma?! Yes, it sure is. It's asthma.

All week long our son has been up coughing at night. We put him to bed and the coughing starts. Sure, he would cough some during the day, but not like this. Not even close. We made sure he was still taking Children's Claritin daily and gave him cough medicine as we could but nothing was helping. The prescription cough medicine with codeine did absolutely nothing for him. He'd cough just as much and would remain wide awake for hours until the coughing would subside.

This was it, we were taking him to see a real Doctor (no offense to any Doctors who may work at places like Doctors on Duty, but the ones here are very lacking). Something else was going on here, it had to be. No one coughs like this just because. I was concerned it was perhaps walking pneumonia, or asthma or that he was allergic to something in his room.

I called this morning and they got him in at 2:15 p.m.; I was going to ask about checking him out for asthma and possibly allergy testing as it was way past time to get to the bottom of this. My husband took the rest of the day off from work (we are thankful they are so understanding) and went with us as he was very concerned. We saw a new Doctor at our usual Pediatricians Office, he came to us from Connecticut where he worked at a Children's Hospital. I liked him the moment I saw him and saw how he was with my son. That may not sound like much, but since I've worked with Doctors, it says a lot! I am not easily impressed and this guy had it.

He talked to us, he checked out our son. He said the words before I even had the chance to ask. Asthma. Yes, our son has asthma.

Treatments and what it all means

To start our son was put on Singulair (oral chewable tablet to be taken daily) to see how it will help prevent the problems he's currently having from asthma and allergies. The Doctor gave us enough samples for a month, and an Rx to fill should it work well for him. We also got an Rx for an inhaler, Albuterol to be taken as often as every 4 hours; but only as needed. What treatments you should take should be determined by you and your doctor. Please, don't go by what is said here!

This is only day one for us and already I have seen a change in my son. He was actually able to take a nap this afternoon without coughing more than two times thanks to his inhaler. He took the Singulair without any problems, he said it tastes ok (yay!) and he was quite the trooper as we did our first inhaler treatment. Having the ventilated inhaling chamber helped a great deal I am sure as well as the fact that I was experienced with giving treatments (thanks to my former jobs).

What having this diagnosis means to us is that now we can start properly treating and dealing with my son's problems. It means we should all be able to sleep again and wake up rested. It means we'll have to watch and see what triggers the attacks besides just going to bed so we can prevent them - or at least be prepared for them in the future. It means my son will now be able to go on with his life and he won't have to keep missing school and activities because he is "sick".

Dealing with it....

It's never easy being told there is something 'wrong' with your child. I know that very well. Last year my son was diagnosed with several things, including Cerebral Palsy (for those who are still waiting for me to write on that, I'm hoping to get it done and put on Epinions next month). In some ways perhaps my husband and I have been blessed in that both last year and now we already knew something was going on so there was no need for denial. What we wanted were answers as to why this was going on and what we can do to help our son through it.

Because of all the diagnosis we got last year, I think accepting that our son has asthma was perhaps easier for us than it is for some. Our son has a mild case of asthma which I'm sure also helps. While we aren't happy our son has this problem, we are very happy that we now know what's going on and can take it from there. We know it will make things much better for all of us, knowing what's going on and knowing how to prevent and stop attacks.

Why write this?

I wanted to add that I'm writing this only to get the word out. I worked in the medical field for years, I knew full well that the symptoms of asthma can be nighttime coughing as well as coughing during attacks instead of wheezing and being unable to catch your breath. I knew children (and adults) with allergies were more prone to asthma. I knew this, yet I figured it had to be worse than what my son was experiencing for awhile. It wasn't. In the end I knew it had to be something and felt there as at least a 75% chance that the problem was indeed asthma. I was right, but when I think of all the needless suffering my son had to endure .... it makes me feel ill.

If you think there is even a chance that your child may have asthma, please! Get it checked out. Make them check for it and know once and for all what's going on and causing so many coughs and "colds" (which in fact, weren't always a cold).

With my heartfelt thanks to those in the medical community who are true gems! This mom doesn't have the words to express how thrilled I am when I find a really wonderful Doctor for my son! And thanks to those of you in the Epinions community who are just amazing people!

~ Melissa :o)

I'll update this as we know more about what triggers my son's attacks as well as how he handles his medications. And like I said, look for a very long editorial on children with disabilities and Cerebral Palsy from me next month. What fun. :|

For more Medical information on asthma, please visit the following sites and talk to your physician.

American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)

Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics

American Lung Association -- Asthma

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