Cough desensitization treatment: A randomized, sham-controlled pilot trial for patients with refractory chronic cough

Laurie Slovarp, Jane E. Reynolds, Emma Bozarth-Dailey, Sarah Popp, Sarah Campbell, Paige Morkrid

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: The purpose of this study was to determine feasibility of treating refractory chronic cough (RCC) with progressive doses of capsaicin paired with cough suppression. Methods: In this sham-controlled, parallel RCT, 14 adults with RCC were randomly assigned to either behavioral cough suppression therapy (BCST) plus 6 treatment sessions involving exposure to nebulized capsaicin in progressively larger concentrations while actively suppressing cough (n = 8), or BCST plus 6 sessions of exposure to a single subthreshold dose of capsaicin (sham; n = 6). The Leicester Cough Questionnaire (LCQ) was the primary outcome measure. Urge-to-cough (UTC) testing, measuring both UTC and cough frequency, served as secondary outcome measures. Data was analyzed with mixed effects linear regression and follow-up contrasts. Results: Results on all measures favored the treatment group; however, there was only strong evidence of a difference in treatment effect on cough frequency during UTC testing. Mean change in LCQ at 3-weeks post treatment was 2.95 and 1.75 (p = .23), in the treatment and sham groups, respectively. Cough frequency during UTC testing reduced by 97% and 56% (p < .0001) at three weeks post, respectively. Within-group comparisons revealed strong evidence of change in the treatment group (p < .001) and moderate evidence of a change in the sham group (p = .08) in LCQ. Conclusions: Conclusions from this study are limited due to the very small sample size; however, the study provides feasibility and proof-of-concept evidence to support further investigation of treating RCC with repeated exposure to nebulized capsaicin paired with BCST.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106739
JournalRespiratory Medicine
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Capsaicin
  • Chronic cough
  • Cough hypersensitivity
  • Cough suppression
  • Desensitization
  • Refractory chronic cough


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