Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is one of the most common causes of chronic cough; however, the mechanisms by which GOR initiates coughing are incompletely understood. We address the hypothesis that acidification of oesophagus acutely increases the cough reflex sensitivity in patients with GORD and chronic cough. Nine patients with GORD with chronic cough and 16 patients with GORD without cough were recruited. In a randomized double blind study, saline and acid (HCl, 0.1 mol L(-1)) were separately infused into oesophagus via naso-oesophageal catheter. Cough reflex sensitivity to inhaled capsaicin was determined immediately after completion of each infusion. Infusion of acid into oesophagus increased capsaicin cough reflex sensitivity in patients with GORD and chronic cough. In contrast, acid had no effect on the cough sensitivity in patients with GORD without cough. In a separate study, acid infusion into oesophagus did not affect the cough sensitivity in 18 healthy subjects. We conclude that acid in the oesophagus acutely increases the cough reflex sensitivity to capsaicin in patients with GORD and chronic cough. This phenomenon may contribute to the pathogenesis of cough due to GORD.