BACKGROUND: Cough in asthmatic patients is a common and troublesome symptom. It is generally assumed coughing occurs as a consequence of bronchial hyperresponsiveness and inflammation, but the possibility that airway nerves are dysfunctional has not been fully explored.
OBJECTIVES: We sought to investigate capsaicin-evoked cough responses in a group of patients with well-characterized mild-to-moderate asthma compared with healthy volunteers and assess the influences of sex, atopy, lung physiology, inflammation, and asthma control on these responses.
METHODS: Capsaicin inhalational challenge was performed, and cough responses were analyzed by using nonlinear mixed-effects modeling to estimate the maximum cough response evoked by any concentration of capsaicin (Emax) and the capsaicin dose inducing half-maximal response (ED50).
RESULTS: Ninety-seven patients with stable asthma (median age, 23 years [interquartile range, 21-27 years]; 60% female) and 47 healthy volunteers (median age, 38 years [interquartile range, 29-47 years]; 64% female) were recruited. Asthmatic patients had higher Emax and lower ED50 values than healthy volunteers. Emax values were 27% higher in female subjects (P = .006) and 46% higher in patients with nonatopic asthma (P = .003) compared with healthy volunteers. Also, patients with atopic asthma had a 21% lower Emax value than nonatopic asthmatic patients (P = .04). The ED50 value was 65% lower in female patients (P = .0001) and 71% lower in all asthmatic patients (P = .0008). ED50 values were also influenced by asthma control and serum IgE levels, whereas Emax values were related to 24-hour cough frequency. Age, body mass index, FEV1, PC20, fraction of exhaled nitric oxide, blood eosinophil counts, and inhaled steroid treatment did not influence cough parameters.
CONCLUSION: Patients with stable asthma exhibited exaggerated capsaicin-evoked cough responses consistent with neuronal dysfunction. Nonatopic asthmatic patients had the highest cough responses, suggesting this mechanism might be most important in type 2-low asthma phenotypes.