Prevalence, pathogenesis, and causes of chronic cough

Lancet. 2008 Apr 19;371(9621):1364-74. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(08)60595-4.


Cough is a reflex action of the respiratory tract that is used to clear the upper airways. Chronic cough lasting for more than 8 weeks is common in the community. The causes include cigarette smoking, exposure to cigarette smoke, and exposure to environmental pollution, especially particulates. Diseases causing chronic cough include asthma, eosinophilic bronchitis, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, postnasal drip syndrome or rhinosinusitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis, and bronchiectasis. Doctors should always work towards a clear diagnosis, considering common and rare illnesses. In some patients, no cause is identified, leading to the diagnosis of idiopathic cough. Chronic cough is often associated with an increased response to tussive agents such as capsaicin. Plastic changes in intrinsic and synaptic excitability in the brainstem, spine, or airway nerves can enhance the cough reflex, and can persist in the absence of the initiating cough event. Structural and inflammatory airway mucosal changes in non-asthmatic chronic cough could represent the cause or the traumatic response to repetitive coughing. Effective control of cough requires not only controlling the disease causing the cough but also desensitisation of cough pathways.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cough / diagnosis
  • Cough / etiology*
  • Cough / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Respiratory Sounds / etiology
  • Smoking / adverse effects


  • Air Pollutants