Stability of cough reflex sensitivity during viral upper respiratory tract infection (common cold)

Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2014 Aug;28(2):154-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pupt.2014.05.004. Epub 2014 May 28.


Cough is among the symptoms most commonly associated with an acute, viral upper respiratory tract infection (URI), such as the common cold. Two previous studies incorporating capsaicin cough challenge methodology have demonstrated that cough reflex sensitivity is transiently enhanced during URI. These studies used single measurements of cough reflex sensitivity during the URI period. To our knowledge, no previous studies have included multiple measurements of cough reflex sensitivity to capsaicin during a URI to evaluate the stability of this measure during the acute viral illness. In the current methodological investigation, we performed capsaicin cough challenges in 42 subjects with URI who were otherwise healthy, adult, nonsmokers (25 female). Subjects were enrolled within 72 h of onset of illness and randomly assigned to 3 groups (n = 14 each) that underwent cough reflex sensitivity measurement (C2 and C5) at days 0 and 1 for group 1; days 2 and 3 for group 2; or days 4 and 5 for group 3. Each subject returned 4-8 weeks post-viral infection to establish a healthy baseline measurement (recovery). Our results support that cough reflex sensitivity to capsaicin, as measured by C5, is a sensitive measure that remains stable during 6 days of a URI. These results suggest that cough reflex sensitivity measures in the presence of a URI provide a sensitive and reproducible approach that could be used in future investigations seeking to test experimental antitussive therapies.

Keywords: Antitussive; Capsaicin; Common cold; Cough; Upper respiratory tract infection.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Capsaicin / administration & dosage*
  • Common Cold / physiopathology*
  • Cough / chemically induced*
  • Cough / virology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reflex / drug effects*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensory System Agents / administration & dosage
  • Time Factors


  • Sensory System Agents
  • Capsaicin