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Capsaicin sensitivity in patients with chronic cough– results from a cross-sectional study

Ewa Ternesten-Hasséus1*, Christel Larsson2, Sven Larsson3 and Eva Millqvist1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Allergology, Institution of Internal Medicine, the Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Central Hospital, Skövde, Sweden

3 Department of Respiratory Medicine, Institution of Internal Medicine, the Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

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Cough 2013, 9:5  doi:10.1186/1745-9974-9-5

Published: 28 February 2013



A subgroup of patients with chronic cough is recognised as having airway symptoms resulting exposure to chemicals and scents related to enhanced cough sensitivity to inhaled capsaicin. Sensory hyperreactivity, which has an estimated prevalence of more than 6%, is one possible explanation for the symptoms experienced by these patients. We hypothesized that a number of patients diagnosed with chronic unexplained cough also have coughing provoked by chemical irritants associated with augmented capsaicin cough reaction, but the extent of such a relation is not known. One aim of the present study was to analyse cough sensitivity to inhaled capsaicin in patients with chronic unexplained cough. Another aim was to compare capsaicin sensitivity in individuals with chemically induced coughing (the chemical-sensitive group) to capsaicin sensitivity in those without such chemical sensitivity (non-sensitive group).


Fifty-six participants from an earlier cross-sectional study of 62 patients with chronic unexplained cough were asked to participate in this study: 33 were chemical-sensitive and 23 were non-sensitive. Each participant visited the clinic once and performed a capsaicin inhalation test with one of two inhalation devices. The number of coughs, induced airway symptoms, and spirometry results were recorded.


Thirty-nine of the invited patients participated in the study, with 32 in the chemical-sensitive group (21 women, 11 men), and 7 in the non-sensitive group (4 women, 3 men). The chemical-sensitive patients coughed significantly more on inhaling capsaicin, and had significantly more other airway symptoms compared to those in the non-sensitive group. Women coughed significantly more than men after receiving the higher concentration of capsaicin.


Environmental irritants often trigger chronic unexplained cough. The current findings confirm that this sensitivity is related to enhanced capsaicin cough sensitivity and indicates more involvement of airway sensory nerves in the pathophysiology of the disease than in cough without evident trigger factors.

Cough; Chemical sensitivity; Capsaicin; Sensory hyperreactivity