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Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Apr;22(2):59-64. doi: 10.1016/j.pupt.2008.11.003. Epub 2008 Nov 14.

Are there clinical features of a sensitized cough reflex?

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  • 1Regional Respiratory Centre, Belfast City Hospital, Belfast, N Ireland.


Cough reflex hypersensitization is a key feature in patients with troublesome cough. The clinical consequence of this hypersensitive state is typified by bouts of coughing often triggered by low threshold stimuli encountered by the patient during normal daily activities including exposure to aerosols, scents and odours, a change in air temperature and when talking or laughing. These features are often perceived by cough patients to be the most disruptive aspect of their condition and undoubtedly contribute to impaired quality of life. Patients with troublesome cough may describe a range of additional symptoms and sensations including an 'urge to cough' or the feeling of an 'itch' at the back of the throat, or a choking sensation and occasionally chest pain or breathlessness. It is uncertain if these features arise due to the processes responsible for cough reflex sensitization or as a direct consequence of the underlying cough aetiology. In an attempt to understand the clinical features of a sensitized cough reflex, the spectrum of symptoms typically described by cough patients will be reviewed and possible underlying mechanisms considered. Since an intact cough reflex is crucial to airway protection, anti-tussive treatment that attenuates the hypersensitive cough state rather than abolishing the cough reflex completely would be preferable. Identifying such agents remains a clinical, scientific and pharmacological challenge.

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