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The main objective of this study was to investigate how the consultation rate and medication use in the treatment of cough symptoms in infants during their first 6 months of life varied by their mothers' education levels, ages and the presence of other children in the household. A prospective cohort of children were studied from birth. Data were collected by means of self-completion postal questionnaires. All 6682 children born between 1 July 1991 and 30 June 1992, inclusive within the three health districts of former Avon which are within the South-west Regional Health Authority were included in the study. The proportion of children ever having a cough during their first 6 months of life and of those with cough symptoms, the proportion receiving cough medicine and the proportion consulting a doctor was investigated. Some 61% of children were reported as having had a cough during their first 6 months of life and this proportion did not vary significantly across educational levels. The proportion of children with coughs who were taken to a doctor (60%) and the proportion with coughs who were given cough medicine (20%), however, did vary with education. The association between mother's education level and the treatment of her child's cough was much stronger than with either of the mother's age or number of other children. After controlling for confounding factors, the percentage of mothers who consulted a doctor for their children's coughs decreased progressively with increasing maternal education from 70% (95% confidence interval: 66%, 73%) of those with CSE or less to 50% (95% CI: 45%, 55%) of those with a degree. A similar pattern emerged with the use of cough medicine, 22% (95% CI: 19%, 25%) of children whose mothers were in the lowest education group received cough medicine compared with 12% (95% CI: 9%, 15%) in the highest group. A large proportion, 60%, of children under 6 months with coughs are taken to a doctor. Children of more highly educated mothers are less likely to see a doctor or to receive cough medicine.