Cough, cough receptors, and asthma in children

Pediatr Pulmonol. 1999 Jul;28(1):59-70. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1099-0496(199907)28:1<59::aid-ppul10>;2-y.


This review discusses current general concepts on cough and the relationship between cough, cough receptor sensitivity, and asthma in children. It presents models of the relationship between cough and bronchoconstriction, and proposes a new model outlining the relationship between cough receptor sensitivity, airway hyperresponsiveness, and the clinical issues of cough, wheeze, and dyspnea in children with and without asthma. Cough is very common in children, with a prevalence of 15-20%. Those with non-specific cough (dry cough in the absence of identifiable respiratory illness) are often treated with a variety of drugs, in particular, medications for asthma and gastroesophageal reflux. However, there is little evidence to use these medications for the sole symptom of cough in children. Clinical studies on cough need to be interpreted in light of inherent methodological problems in studying cough. These methodological problems include the nonrepeatable nature of questions on cough, the unreliability of subjective measurements of cough, the lack of objective measurements to quantify cough severity, and the period effect (spontaneous resolution of cough). Although cough can be troublesome, cough serves as an important function for maintaining normal health of the respiratory system. The importance of cough in maintaining respiratory health is reflected in the development of lung atelactasis/collapse from retained secretions and recurrent pneumonia in clinical situations where the cough reflex is ineffective. The cough reflex is complex and still poorly understood. In this article the simplified cough pathway is presented and involves cough receptors, mediators of sensory nerves and the afferent pathway, the vagus nerve, the cough centre, efferent pathway, and cough effectors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Asthma / diagnosis
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / diagnosis
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cough / diagnosis
  • Cough / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiopathology*