Measuring cough severity: Perspectives from the literature and from patients with chronic cough

Cough. 2009 Mar 19;5:5. doi: 10.1186/1745-9974-5-5.


Background: In order to assess severity of cough from patients' perspectives and capture the effects of treatment in clinical trials, a measurement tool must show evidence of validity and reliability. The purpose of this study was to characterize cough severity from patients' perspectives as the initial step in the development of a new patient-reported outcome (PRO) measure for use in clinical trials.

Methods: This focus groups study included patients with clinician confirmed chronic cough recruited from a large internal medicine clinic in the US. A semi-structured focus group guide was designed to elicit information about patients' experiences with cough severity and their characterization of symptoms. The focus group data were coded to identify concepts and terminology of cough severity.

Results: Three focus groups were conducted [n = 22; 6 male; mean age 66.1 (+/- 12.9)]. Etiology included GERD, asthma, bronchitis, post-nasal drip, and other. Three domains of cough severity were identified: frequency, intensity, and disruption. In addition to a single cough, participants in all focus groups described coughing in uncontrollable paroxysms they called "fits," "bouts," "spells," or "episodes." The urge to cough, described as an important sign of impending cough, was considered a component of cough frequency. Participants also described daytime activity and nighttime sleep disruption as an indication of cough severity. Finally, participants described variability in cough severity.

Conclusion: Results suggest that patients describe cough severity in terms of frequency, intensity, and disruptiveness, indicating these 3 domains should be addressed when evaluating cough severity and outcomes of treatment.