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Eur Respir J. 1998 Mar;11(3):702-5.

Increased sensitivity of the cough reflex in progressive systemic sclerosis patients with interstitial lung disease.

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Respiratory Unit, University of Natal, Durban, South Africa.


Cough is a common presenting symptom of interstitial lung disease (ILD). The aim of this study was to examine the cough reflex in patients with progressive systemic sclerosis (PSS), with and without associated ILD. The cough reflex to inhalation of chloride deficient solutions and capsaicin was determined in patients with PSS with associated ILD (n=12), compared to patients with PSS without ILD (n=12). In addition, patients with a chronic dry cough (n=12) and healthy subjects (n=10) without cough were studied. Cough responses to inhalation of isotonic solutions containing 150, 75, 37.5 and 0 mM Cl- ions and of capsaicin (0.9-500 mM) were measured. PSS patients with ILD reported a significantly higher cough score than PSS patients without ILD (p<0.03). ILD patients coughed more than those without ILD to Cl- of 37.5 and 0 mM (19.1+/-5.0 vs 6.2+/-1.9 coughs x min(-1) (p<0.03), and 29.2+/-5.0 vs 14.1/-4.1 coughs x min(-1) (p<0.04), respectively). The log concentration of capsaicin causing two or five coughs was lower in PSS with ILD compared to PSS without ILD (0.74+/-0.15 mM vs 2.12+/-0.26 mM; p<0.002). Patients with chronic dry cough had a similar degree of response to low-chloride and capsaicin solutions as patients with PSS and ILD, whilst healthy controls had a similar degrees of response to PSS patients. There is an increased cough reflex in patients with interstitial lung disease, which may represent sensitization of airway sensory nerves. This may be the basis for the chronic dry cough in patients with interstitial lung disease.

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