A systematic evaluation of mechanisms in chronic cough

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1997 Jul;156(1):211-6. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.156.1.9605044.


We tested the hypothesis that hyperresponsiveness of the upper airway (UAHR) is present in patients with chronic cough of diverse etiology. We determined the frequency of bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), hyperresponsiveness of the upper airway, sputum eosinophilia, pulmonary aspiration, and psychological symptoms in adults with chronic cough. Consecutive adults (n = 30) presenting to a tertiary referral clinic with chronic cough were compared with a group of 20 asymptomatic adults. Measurements included histamine provocation testing with measurement of flow volume curves to determine inspiratory and expiratory airflow obstruction; hypertonic saline induced sputum for analysis of eosinophils, mast cells and lipid-laden macrophages; and a validated psychological symptom questionnaire. Symptomatic rhinitis and gastroesophageal reflux were common causes of chronic cough. BHR occurred in seven patients (23%) and in no control subjects (p < 0.05). UAHR occurred in 40% of patients with cough and in four (20%) control subjects (p > 0.05). Eosinophils were present in the sputum of more patients with cough than control subjects (50% versus 19%; p < 0.05). High degrees of eosinophilia were present in six patients with cough, including three without BHR. No subject had significant lipid-laden macrophages. There was greater somatization in patients with chronic cough; ten subjects scored in the clinically significant range (p < 0.05). Abnormalities in one or more of these tests were 7.67-fold (95% CI 1.83-34.52) more likely to occur in cough patients than control subjects. We conclude that chronic cough is a nonspecific symptom that is associated with several apparently unrelated mechanisms. These include UAHR, somatization, BHR, and eosinophilic bronchitis. UAHR cannot be implicated as a single unifying mechanism. These findings emphasize the need to systematically evaluate several different causes of cough in patients who present with chronic cough.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / complications*
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cough / etiology*
  • Cough / psychology
  • Eosinophilia / complications
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Larynx / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sputum / immunology