A habit cough, also known as a psychogenic cough, is one that appears in children following a cold or the flu, but persists long past the other symptoms. Generally, there is no actual medical cause for the cough, but it will occur every few seconds when the child is awake, and is often characterized by a type of dry, barking sound. Once it becomes a habit, it is very difficult to break, and it can go on for months or, in some rare cases, years. Cough suppressants will not help a habit cough because it is psychological, not caused by any medical reason.
In many kids who develop this issue, a habit cough can be very severe. For as long as the child is awake, he or she will likely be coughing every few seconds, or at least a few times for every minute of the day. This can begin to interfere with schoolwork or any other activities the child participates in. It can also make it difficult for the child to fall asleep at night, but once he or she is asleep, the coughing will stop. This is one of the ways that a habit cough can be differentiated by a cough caused by an actual health issue.
Treatments for a habit cough typically involve psychotherapy and possibly even hypnosis in order to get the child to break the habit. In therapy, the child will learn how to visualize techniques to stop coughing. He or she may begin by holding his breath for a few seconds, and gradually increasing the amount of time that the breath is held, in order to interrupt the coughing response. Other visual tools, such as visualizing a switch that can be flipped to turn off the coughing, have been shown to be useful in some instances.
For children who have developed a habit cough as a result of deeper psychological issues, such as a need to get more attention from parents or caregivers, or due to high levels of stress or anxiety, additional therapy may be needed to overcome the cough. In most other cases, however, children who are successfully taught self-hypnosis and visualization techniques are able to overcome their habit coughing. Usually the regular coughing will not cause any type of lasting damage, but while it is still going on it can cause a soreness in the throat and chest as well as affect concentration, so it is important to deal with this issue as soon as possible. A child's regular pediatrician is often the best place to start, so that medical causes can first be ruled out, and an appropriate specialist can be recommended.