Background: Chronic productive cough is a common clinical problem; often potential causes outside the lower respiratory tract are forgotten or ignored. The aim of this study was to make a precise etiopathogenetic diagnosis of chronic productive cough in young adults.
Methods: In a clinical setting, 212 subjects (mean age 41+/-5 years) who had reported chronic productive cough in a previous postal survey of a young adult population underwent within two years clinical and functional investigations following a rational diagnostic approach. Two pulmonologists independently established the diagnosis using a clinically structured interview on nasal and respiratory symptoms, spirometry and other tests when appropriate (bronchodilator test or methacholine bronchial challenge, chest radiography); if rhino-sinusitis was suspected, subjects underwent an ENT examination with nasal endoscopy and/or sinus computed tomography.
Results: At the end of the diagnostic procedure, 87 subjects (41%) no longer had chronic productive cough and had normal function. Fifty-eight subjects (27%) had chronic rhino-sinusitis; seventeen subjects (8%) had asthma, and of these fourteen also had chronic rhino-sinusitis; 50 subjects (24%) had COPD stage 0+, of these seven also had chronic rhino-sinusitis. Chronic rhino-sinusitis was more frequent in females than in males (p<0.05).
Conclusions: Both in clinical practice and in epidemiological studies, it is important to consider that the origin of chronic productive cough could be frequently outside the lower respiratory tract; a consistent percentage of young adults with persistent productive cough has indeed chronic rhino-sinusitis.