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  • Writer's pictureNalaka de Silva

Chronic Cough

Updated: Mar 31

Please note that the following is a general guideline/ discussion only.


Cough is a conserved physiological reflex designed to protect the airway from violation by inhaled or aspirated material.

Chronic cough: Cough more than 8 weeks can be challenging to treat


Cough is the most common presenting symptom to ambulatory medical practice visits in the US,

Chronic cough is estimated between 10-30 % of adults


Historically Reported

Gastric Reflux, Asthma and post Nasal drip has been documented as a cause around 90%

All the above are highly prevalent disorders hence may have an incidental association

Current Theories

A Silent Laryngeal Reflux:

The likely Hypothesis are

1) microaspiration of acid

2) inflammation due to acid sensitising the vagus nerve

3) Oesophageal pressure receptor stimulation: Volume reflux (whether acid or non-acid) may result in abnormal oesophageal contractions possibly providing a cough stimulus. Therefore even non-acid reflux may still cause cough.

B Post Nasal Drip

There is no strong evidence that post nasal drip causes cough

However, there is some evidence to suggest that treating post-nasal drip may improve cough. This association is more noticeable if there is evidence of sinusitis with bacterial biofilms. Currently, it appears reasonable to treat those who have a post nasal drip medically. Surgery Should be reserved to patients who have an additional indication due to chronic sino-nasal symptoms, not responding to medical treatment (not cough alone).

Vagal Neuropathy

Various irritants and stimulants of the vagus nerve may lead to sensitisation of the larynx. Some likely causes are silent laryngeal reflux, a viral infection and allergy. Once the vagus nerve is sensitised cough may easily be precipitated by minimum stimuli such as cold air.

Treatment of the initiating event will not improve symptoms. Instead, one could try neuromodulating medications such as baclofen, amitriptyline, gabapentin and pregabalin. Use of these is limited by side effects hence reserved to those who do not respond to other treatments. There is evidence that speech therapy may help, especially if there is a paradoxical vocal cord movement noted during ENT-endoscopy.


Look at Possible Medications

Medications such as ACE inhibitors should be stopped.

Treat Pulmonary Causes

Exclude a possible pulmonary cause such as asthma, Bronchitis.

CXR, Spirometry or further investigations should be done.

Response should be Monitored

Mindful of Other Causes

Being mindful of disorders affecting swallowing, chronic laryngeal infection, systemic inflammatory conditions such as Wegner's or sarcoidosis. Relevant work up should be done if any suggestion of any sinister cause.

Assessment of Post Nasal Drip, Larygo-pharynx and Voice

After Exclusion of the above work up for post nasal drip, silent laryngeal reflux.

Trans-nasal endoscopy: This will give a view of the nasal space and the post nasal space and the laryngo-pharynx. All ENT surgeons in the clinic do this.

Transnasal oesophagoscopy: Gives a full-length view of the oesophagus, done by a limited number of laryngologists.

Non responders: Need complete endoscopy with PH monitoring and Manometry. This is to review the degree of acid as well as non acid reflux. It is preferably done by a general surgeon, who has the capability of surgical treatment.


Those who have evidence of a post nasal drip, with other significant, recalcitrant sino-nasal symptoms will benefit from surgery

Those who have severe reflux may benefit from Nissen Fundoplication

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