Introduction: Cough is an important contributor to the health burden of children and their families. There are limited data describing healthcare utilization and medication use over the course of a cough illness beyond the initial presentation. Our primary objective was to describe medication and healthcare use in children with a respiratory illness with cough as a symptom over the course of the illness.
Methods: A cohort study of children aged less than 15-years presenting to three primary healthcare centers and three emergency departments with a cough illness between July 7, 2015 and October 6, 2018. Children with immunosuppression, known chronic lung diseases (except asthma) and those requiring hospitalization at screening were excluded. The primary outcomes were cough-related frequency and type of healthcare seeking and medication use up to 28 days following enrolment.
Results: Data for 465 children were analyzed; median age 2.2-years (interquartile range = 1.1–5.3). Cough at Day 28 persisted in 117 children (25.2%). Overall, 436 (94%) children received medications in the week before and/or 4 weeks following enrolment. Half with upper respiratory tract infections were prescribed antibiotics. Among children with no diagnosis of asthma, reactive airways disease or croup (n = 404), 16.8% were given steroids. Fifty-eight percent of children sought healthcare at least once before their baseline presentation (median = 1, range = 0–20) and 49.7% had at least one further presentation in the following 28 days.
Conclusions: High healthcare utilization, inappropriate medication use, and suboptimal parent knowledge regarding cough suggests targeted education is needed to improve management and reduce cough burden.