Effect of viral upper respiratory tract infection on the urge-to-cough sensation

Peter V. Dicpinigaitis, Rajani Bhat, William A. Rhoton, Amit S. Tibb, Abdissa Negassa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Background: Recently, interest has emerged in the sensation of irritation that precedes the motor act of coughing; this phenomenon has been termed the urge-to-cough (UTC). Although one previous study has demonstrated a transient enhancement of cough reflex sensitivity during acute upper respiratory tract infection (URI), the effect of URI on UTC has not previously been investigated. Methods: Employing standard cough challenge methodology, we measured cough reflex sensitivity in 24 otherwise healthy adult nonsmokers during URI and again after recovery (4-8 weeks later) by determining C2 and C 5, the concentrations of capsaicin inducing 2 or more and 5 or more coughs, respectively. In addition, we determined the capsaicin concentration at which the UTC sensation first occurred, without an associated motor cough, and termed it Cu. Furthermore, we determined the difference between concentrations of capsaicin inducing the first motor event of cough (C 1) and Cu, and have termed it CΔ. Results: During URI, cough reflex sensitivity as measured by C1 (p = 0.033) and C5 (p = 0.001), as well as the urge-to-cough threshold, Cu (p = 0.046), were significantly enhanced compared to the post-recovery state. The degree of change in cough reflex sensitivity (C 5) was significantly greater than that of the urge-to-cough threshold, Cu (p = 0.044). Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that the UTC sensation is transiently enhanced during URI. We also confirm the results of the lone previous study that demonstrated transient enhancement of cough reflex sensitivity during URI. The UTC threshold may represent an additional relevant end point to measure in future studies evaluating potential antitussive agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)615-618
Number of pages4
JournalRespiratory Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Capsaicin
  • Common cold
  • Cough
  • Respiratory tract infection
  • Urge-to-cough

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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