To assess the role of enhanced cough sensitivity in the pathogenesis of cough, we measured cough severity on a visual analogue scale (VAS) and capsaicin cough sensitivity (the concentration required to elicit two [C2] and five [C5] coughs) in 87 consecutive patients referred with chronic cough. Measurements were repeated after complete investigation and treatment, when patients were entered into one of four study groups: (1) treatment success (primary cause of cough successfully treated with elimination of the cough, n = 48); (2) primary treatment failure (treatment of potential primary cause of cough unsuccessful, n = 12); (3) cough treatment failure subgroup A (potential primary cause of cough identified and successfully treated but no improvement in cough, n = 8); and (4) cough treatment failure subgroup B (no potential primary cause of cough identified, n = 19). All patients in groups 3 and 4 were nonsmokers, had normal chest radiography and negative histamine challenge test, and failed to respond to intensive empirical treatment for rhinitis and gastroesophageal reflux. The VAS cough severity was lower and log C2 and C5 higher after treatment compared with initial values in the treatment success group but not in the other three groups. Enhanced sensitivity of airway nerves that mediate cough is important in the pathogenesis of nonproductive cough, and successful treatment is associated with a reduction in cough sensitivity. While enhanced sensitivity of airway nerves is usually present in patients with identifiable causes of chronic nonproductive cough, it is also found in other patients in whom the cause of cough is unknown.