Unexplained Cough in the Adult

Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01655, USA.
Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America (Impact Factor: 1.49). 02/2010; 43(1):167-80, xi-xii. DOI: 10.1016/j.otc.2009.11.009
Source: PubMed


Unexplained cough is a diagnosis of exclusion that should not be made until a thorough validated diagnostic evaluation is performed, specific and appropriate validated treatments have been tried and failed, and uncommon causes have been ruled out. When chronic cough remains troublesome after the initial work up, determine that a protocol has been used that has been shown to lead to successful results. If such a protocol has been used, next consider whether or not pitfalls in management have been avoided. If they have been, the frequency of truly unexplained chronic cough usually should not exceed 10%. While patients with truly unexplained coughs have an overly sensitive cough reflex, the mere presence of an overly sensitive cough reflex does not by itself explain why they do not get better, because most patients with chronic cough, even those who respond to treatment and get better, have demonstrable heightened cough sensitivity. Management options include referral to a cough clinic with interdisciplinary expertise, speech therapy, and self-limited trials of drugs, preferentially with those shown to be effective in randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trials in patients with unexplained chronic cough.

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    ABSTRACT: Chronic cough that cannot be explained after basic evaluation is a common reason for patients to be referred to respiratory outpatient clinics. Asthma, gastroesophageal reflux, and upper airway disorders frequently coexist with chronic cough. There is some controversy as to whether these conditions are causes or aggravants of cough. Heightened cough reflex sensitivity is an important feature in most patients. There is good evidence that it is reversible when associated with upper respiratory tract infection, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor medications, and chronic cough associated with eosinophilic airway inflammation. In many patients, heightened cough reflex sensitivity is persistent and their cough is unexplained. There are few therapeutic options for patients with unexplained chronic cough. There is a pressing need to understand the genetic, molecular, and physiological basis of unexplained chronic cough and to develop novel antitussive drugs that down-regulate cough reflex sensitivity.
    Preview · Article · Dec 2010 · American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
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