Background: Cough is a frequently encountered symptom and can be indicative of a serious underlying disease. However, no studies have investigated the incidence of cough in the general population in Japan, the diseases causing cough or the treatments administered.
Methods: We sent a screening survey to 29,085 randomly selected individuals and a more detailed survey to the first 1,000 individuals with cough who agreed to participate and provided consent. The survey included questions to determine the duration of cough, disturbances of daily living and whether the individual had consulted a physician.
Results: The prevalence of cough among the general population was 10.2%. There was no difference in cough frequency between males and females or across age groups. The prevalence of prolonged or chronic cough (cough lasting ≥3 weeks) was 35.8% and the duration of cough increased with age. Women were more troubled by cough than men were. "Feeling ashamed to cough in front of other people" (49.0%) and "causing trouble to other people" (42.8%) were the main reasons for feeling troubled by cough. More than 60% of surveyed individuals were not receiving care and 44.0% had no plans to visit a medical facility. Although cold was the most common cause of cough overall, asthma was the main cause among individuals with cough lasting ≥8 weeks.
Conclusions: In this large-scale cohort study, many respondents were unwilling to visit their doctor, despite having chronic cough. Improvements in educational campaigns are needed to encourage people with chronic cough to visit a doctor.