Purpose of review: This article reviews the common causes and investigation of chronic cough and explores unexplained cough and its relationship to cough hypersensitivity.
Recent findings: Cough plays a critical role in airway protection and clearance of secretions. Chronic cough, however, is a debilitating symptom that can significantly interfere with quality of life. Despite their limitations cough guidelines have raised the awareness of chronic cough as an important problem and provided a framework for a logical care pathway. The use of a systematic approach to diagnosis and management in a specialist clinic can result in successful identification as to the cause, with subsequent relief of symptoms. In a proportion of patients no diagnosis is reached or treatment fails. A common finding among these patients is cough reflex hypersensitivity and this is an important feature irrespective of the underlying diagnosis. The majority of patients referred to tertiary cough clinics are females. Women appear to have an intrinsically heightened cough response with augmented cough challenge and a high frequency of ACE-inhibitor cough.
Summary: The way in which we review cough has undergone radical change in the last decade. A distinct population of patients with chronic idiopathic cough is emerging in whom cough reflex hypersensitivity is a feature. Extended co-operation between clinicians, scientists and the pharmaceutical industry is required to better understand the pathophysiology of the enhanced cough reflex and the development of more effective antitussive therapies.