Ethnic and gender differences in cough reflex sensitivity

Respiration. 2001;68(5):480-2. doi: 10.1159/000050554.


Background: Although recent studies have suggested that the cough reflex is more sensitive in women than in men, ethnic differences in cough reflex sensitivity have not previously been investigated.

Objectives: To evaluate ethnic and gender differences in cough reflex sensitivity.

Methods: We performed capsaicin cough challenge testing in 182 healthy volunteers of three distinct ethnic groups: Caucasian (white, non-Hispanic, of European origin), Indian (originating from the Indian subcontinent) and Chinese. The concentration of capsaicin inducing 2 or more (C2) and 5 or more coughs (C5) was determined in each subject.

Results: Mean (+/-SEM) values for log C5 demonstrated that, within each ethnic group, the cough reflex was more sensitive in women: p = 0.00002 for Caucasian subjects; p = 0.003 for Indian volunteers; and p = 0.002 for Chinese subjects. Examination of C2 data yielded similar results. When subjects were evaluated by gender, multivariate analysis of variance demonstrated no ethnic differences in sensitivity to capsaicin.

Conclusion: Our data do not support the presence of significant ethnic differences in cough reflex sensitivity, but do confirm previous data demonstrating lower cough thresholds in women.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Asian People
  • Capsaicin / adverse effects
  • Cough / chemically induced
  • Cough / ethnology*
  • Europe / ethnology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India / ethnology
  • Male
  • Pakistan / ethnology
  • Reference Values
  • Reflex / drug effects*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sex Factors
  • White People


  • Capsaicin