Methylxanthines for prolonged non-specific cough in children

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jul 20;2005(3):CD005310. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005310.pub2.


Background: Non-specific cough is defined as non-productive cough in the absence of identifiable respiratory disease or known aetiology. It is commonly seen in paediatric practice. These children are treated with a variety of therapies including a variety of asthma medications. Methylxanthines, the main medication used for paediatric asthma for many decades in Western countries, is still widely used in non-Western countries. Also, methylxanthines have other pharmacological properties and their bronchodilator effect is only modest.

Objectives: To evaluate the efficacy of methylxanthines in treating children with non-specific cough.

Search strategy: The Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), the Cochrane Airways Group Specialised Register Collaboration and Cochrane Airways Group, MEDLINE and EMBASE databases were searched by the Cochrane Airways Group. The latest searches were performed in Jan 2005.

Selection criteria: All randomised controlled trials comparing methylxanthines with a placebo medication in treating children with non-specific cough.

Data collection and analysis: Results of searches were reviewed against pre-determined criteria for inclusion. No eligible trials were identified and thus no data were available for analysis. Four small non-randomised controlled trials were reported.

Main results: No randomised controlled trials that examined the efficacy of methylxanthines in the management of prolonged non-specific cough in children were found. In the non randomised trials above, a significant effect was seen within 2-14 days of therapy.

Authors' conclusions: There is currently an absence of reliable evidence to support the routine use of methylxanthines for symptomatic control of non-specific cough in children. If methylxanthines were to be trialled in children with prolonged non-specific cough, cohort data (thus limited) suggest a clinical response (subjective cough severity) would be seen within 2-5 days (and certainly within 14 days) of therapy. However methylxanthine use has to be balanced against the well known risk of toxicity and its low therapeutic range in children. Further research examining the efficacy of this intervention is needed.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antitussive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Cough / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Xanthines / therapeutic use*


  • Antitussive Agents
  • Xanthines
  • methylxanthine