Background: Chronic cough may be a result of asthma and non-asthma causes, but it is unclear whether there are specific inflammatory or remodeling changes.
Objective: We determined airway mucosal changes in patients presenting with asthmatic cough and cough associated with non-asthmatic causes.
Methods: Patients with chronic cough of non-asthmatic (n=33; postnasal drip/rhinitis in 6, gastroesophageal reflux in 5, bronchiectasis in 3, and idiopathic in 19) and asthmatic (n=14) causes and 15 healthy controls underwent fiberoptic bronchoscopy. Morphometry of bronchial biopsies and capsaicin cough sensitivity were assessed.
Results: Compared with controls, submucosal eosinophils and neutrophils were increased in patients with asthmatic cough (P<.005) and submucosal mast cells in patients with non-asthmatic cough (P=.01). Sub-basement membrane thickness, goblet cell area, vascularity, and vessel size were also increased in both groups. Smooth muscle area was higher only in patients with non-asthmatic cough (P=.0007 vs control and P=.019 vs asthmatic cough). None of the pathologic changes were related to the duration of coughing. Cough sensitivity was heightened in patients with non-asthmatic cough compared with controls and patients with asthmatic cough. The degree of goblet cell hyperplasia and epithelial shedding positively correlated with cough sensitivity in patients with non-asthmatic cough (r=0.43; P=.01; and r=0.40; P=.02, respectively).
Conclusion: Features of airway wall remodeling are prominent in the airways with non-asthmatic as well as asthmatic cough. These are linked to chronic cough rather than to asthma. Mast cell hyperplasia rather than eosinophilia is distinctive for non-asthmatic cough.