OBJECTIVE: Children referred for persistent cough were evaluated for the referring and final diagnosis, and the extent of the use of medications prior to referral and the side effects encountered. METHODS: Data on children seen by respiratory paediatricians for persistent cough (> or =4 weeks) in a tertiary respiratory setting were collected prospectively over 12 months. RESULTS: Of the 49 children, 61.2% were diagnosed with asthma at referral, with similar referral rates from general practitioners and paediatricians. Children with isolated cough were just as likely to have been diagnosed with asthma as children with cough and wheeze. Medication use (asthma, gastro-oesophageal reflux and antibiotics) prior to referral was high, asthma medications were most common, and of these 12.9% had significant steroid side effects. The most common abnormality found (46.9%) was a bronchoscopically defined airway lesion, and in 56.5% of these children, another diagnosis (aspiration, achalasia, gastro-oesophageal reflux) existed. No children had a sole final diagnosis of asthma and pre-referral medications were weaned in all children. CONCLUSION: Over diagnosis of asthma and the overuse of asthma treatments with significant side effects is common in children with persistent cough referred to a tertiary respiratory clinic. Children with persistent cough deserve careful evaluation to minimize the use of unnecessary medications and, if medications are used, assessment of response to treatment is important.
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