Chronic persistent cough in the community: a questionnaire survey

Cough. 2007 Mar 23;3:5. doi: 10.1186/1745-9974-3-5.


Background: Chronic cough is a common symptom which causes significant levels of morbidity. It is becoming increasingly well characterised by research taking place in specialist cough clinics, where successful treatment rates are high. However, there is a paucity of data regarding the symptom complex of chronic cough in the community. This report details the results of a postal questionnaire survey sent to individuals requesting further information on chronic cough.

Methods: 856 chronic cough questionnaires were sent out to members of the public who requested an information sheet following a national UK radio broadcast. Information regarding demography, history of cough, previous treatment and physical, psychological and social effects of the cough was elicited.

Results: 373 completed questionnaires were returned. Mean age was 65.3 years (SD 12.0, range 9-88 years). 73% were female and 2% current smokers. Median duration of cough was 6.5 years. 66% had no other coexisting respiratory diagnosis, whilst 24% reported asthma. Of those who responded, 91% had consulted a general practitioner regarding the cough and of them, 85% had been prescribed some sort of treatment. 61% had seen at least one hospital specialist. Commonly reported associated physical symptoms included breathlessness (55%), wheeze (37%), fatigue (72%) and disturbed sleep (70%). Incontinence occurred in 55% of women. Similarly, the majority reported psychological effects such as anger or frustration (83%), anxiety (69%) and depression (55%). 64% felt that the cough interfered with their social life.

Conclusion: Chronic cough causes a high level of morbidity in the community, which results in a correspondingly high rate of healthcare utilisation. Demography and symptomatology seems to be similar to that reported from specialist centres, but successful treatment of the cough was uncommon, despite a high number of medical consultations in both primary and secondary care. If understanding of this debilitating but eminently treatable condition is enhanced, management of chronic cough will improve and many patients will be helped.