Psychogenic cough in children: A Cure

In the early years of my practice I was stationed at Keller Army Hospital, West Point, NY. Ralph Olson,  MD, a pediatrician spending the last years of his practice on active duty as a reserve physician after many years in private practice, consulted on a 4 year old patient for me who had a longstanding cough.  She seemed to cough every time she was around her parents, but never seemed very sick, and I thought she had a psychogenic cough, but wanted Ralph’s opinion and suggestions.  Ralph walked across the lobby of the clinic and suggested I watch while he showed me how to cure this problem.  Many childhood maladies like temper tantrums and continually dropping toys, this is an attention gaining behavior.  The standard advice is to practice good ignoring skills, and it will resolve.  This is true, but Ralph had a better treatment.

I watched as he got down eye to eye with the little girl and her Mom, and he told the child that this cough was from an invisible frog in her throat, and that to get the frog  out of her throat she and her Dad needed build a frog trap to catch it and get rid of it forever.  They needed to get a match box, and they  needed paint it green, with spots and eyes, and let it dry.  Then her Dad would hold it open in front of her mouth, she would cough really hard, and the frog would be pushed out and her Dad could catch the frog in the matchbox and close it quickly.  Then they could throw the trap away with the frog caught inside, and the cough would be gone.

I called the girl’s Mom a couple of days later, and the method worked perfectly.  I have tried this at least twice since, and it has not failed yet.  Feel free to add this to your parenting or pediatric doctor’s  bag of tricks.  It makes you look really wise and you’ll be a hero to at least one set of parents.  I’m sure this could work with a single parent, but like the one day potty training method, having Dad, who often is around less implement this gives him some good time with the child, and seems to work better.

3 Responses to Psychogenic cough in children: A Cure

  1. AMC: The more traditional approach is ignoring the cough to avoid the attention gaining reinforcement. DrP.

  2. Any suggestions fir an 8 year old boy who will most likely not believe that an invisible frog could even be inside his throat ???!!!!!!

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