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Respirology. 2008 May;13(3):353-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1843.2008.01261.x.

Clinical benefit of sequential three-step empirical therapy in the management of chronic cough.

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Department of Respiratory Medicine, Tongji Hospital, School of Medicine, Tongji University, Shanghai, China.



A prospective study was conducted to investigate the efficacy of empirical therapy in the management of chronic cough.


A three-step empirical therapy protocol was used to treat patients who had a chronic cough and a normal CXR and normal lung function testing. In step one antihistamine decongestants plus bronchodilators were taken, corticosteroids in the second step, and a combination of a proton pump inhibitor and a prokinetic agent in the third step. Cough symptom scores were recorded before and after each step in the protocol.


There were 102 patients recruited; mean age 49 +/- 16 years and with a history of cough of between 2 and 120 months at presentation. The cough resolved in 67.6% (n = 69) of the patients after the first-step therapy; in a further 12.7% (13) after the second-step therapy, and in another 7.8% (8) after the third-step of the treatment protocol. In three patients cough improved after the first-step of therapy but only achieved complete resolution when this treatment was combined with the third-step therapy. Overall, the three-step empirical therapy was successful in 88.2% (n = 90) of the patients. Cough symptom scores decreased from 3.30 +/- 0.75 to 0.30 +/- 0.97 (P < 0.001). The mean duration of treatment was 2.70 +/- 1.52 weeks (range 1-12). Cough was controlled in <4 weeks in 79.4% (n = 81) of patients.


Three-step empirical therapy seemed to be useful in most patients and has practical application in the management of chronic cough.

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