The three common symptoms, pain, dyspnoea and cough, share some important features. We felt that the analogies to be made among them could be instructive, possibly suggesting new avenues of research. Each of these symptoms can be profoundly uncomfortable, and can profoundly degrade quality of life. The sign, cough, is often given more prominence than the symptom, urge to cough, but both are important to the patient (the former may be of more concern to nearby people). Advances in pain research over the last several decades have pointed the way to new studies of dyspnoea; they may serve as a model for the psychophysical study of the perception of urge to cough, as well as providing models for understanding both central and peripheral sensitization of the afferent pathway. We briefly review here the afferent and central pathways and psychophysics of pain, dyspnoea and urge to cough.