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Open Access Open Badges Research

Seasonal variations of cough reflex sensitivity in elite athletes training in cold air environment

Julie Turmel1, Valérie Bougault2 and Louis-Philippe Boulet1*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre de recherche de l'Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de Pneumologie de Québec, 2725 Chemin Ste-Foy, Québec, Qc G1V 4G5, Canada

2 Université du Droit et de la Santé, Faculté des Sciences du Sport et de l'Éducation physique, 9 rue de l'Université, Ronchin 59790, France

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Cough 2012, 8:2  doi:10.1186/1745-9974-8-2

Published: 26 March 2012



Exercise-induced cough is common among athletes. Athletes training in cold air often report an increasingly troublesome cough during the winter season. Chronic airway irritation or inflammation may increase the sensory response of cough receptors. The aim of this study was to evaluate the seasonal variability of cough reflex sensitivity to capsaicin in elite athletes.


Fifty-three elite winter athletes and 33 sedentary subjects completed a respiratory questionnaire and a capsaicin provocation test during the summer, fall, and winter. Allergy skin prick tests, spirometry, eucapnic voluntary hyperpnea test (EVH), methacholine inhalation test (MIT), and induced sputum analysis were also performed.


In athletes, the prevalence of cough immediately after exercise was high, particularly during winter. Athletes often showed a late occurrence of cough between 2-8 h after exercise. The cough reflex sensitivity to capsaicin was unchanged through the seasons in both athletes and non-athlete subjects. No significant correlations were found in groups between cough reflex sensitivity to capsaicin and the number of years in sport training, the number of hours of training per week, EVH response (% fall in FEV1), airway responsiveness to methacholine (PC20), airway inflammation or atopy.


The prevalence of cough immediately and a few hours after exercise is high in athletes and more frequently reported during winter. However, cough does not seem to be associated with cough reflex hypersensitivity to capsaicin, bronchoconstriction, or airway inflammation in the majority of athletes.

Cough; athletes; cold air