Background: The character or timing of chronic cough is considered to be unpredictable for diagnosing its cause. However, the associations of cough triggers with cough pathophysiology remains unknown.
Methods: We developed a closed questionnaire listing 18 triggers that were reported by ≥1% of 213 patients in a retrospective survey. Using this questionnaire, patients with cough-predominant or cough-variant asthma (n = 140) and those with non-asthmatic cough (54) were asked whether their cough was induced by the listed triggers. Associations of triggers with causes of cough, airway sensitivity to inhaled methacholine, exhaled nitric oxide (NO) levels, number of sensitizing allergens, and scores from gastroesophageal reflux (GER) questionnaires were examined. Factor analysis was used to categorize variables, including the 12 most common cough triggers, diagnosis of asthmatic cough, airway sensitivity, and exhaled NO levels.
Results: "Cold air" and "fatigue/stress" induced cough more often in asthmatic coughers than in non-asthmatic coughers. "Spices" and "meals" induced cough more frequently in GER-coughers (n = 19). Patients who marked "cold air" as the trigger were more sensitive to inhaled methacholine and showed higher exhaled NO levels than those who did not mark this trigger. The "post-nasal drip" trigger was associated with elevated exhaled NO levels, and this association was mainly exhibited by patients with cough-predominant asthma. The triggers "pollen" and "mold smell" were associated with a number of sensitizing allergens. The number of triggers was weakly associated with GER scores. By factor analysis, "cold air," "fatigue/stress," asthmatic cough, airway hypersensitivity, and elevated NO levels were categorized into the same factor.
Conclusions: Several cough triggers may reflect the pathophysiology of prolonged or chronic cough.