Effect of viral upper respiratory tract infection on cough reflex sensitivity
Acute viral upper respiratory tract infection (URI; common cold) is among the most common medical conditions affecting man, with cough being a typical feature of the associated syndrome. Studies employing capsaicin inhalation challenge to measure cough reflex sensitivity have demonstrated a transient tussive hyperresponsiveness induced by URI that reverts to normal by 4-8 weeks post infection. Mechanisms proposed to explain the induction of cough by URI include a number of infection-associated airway effects, such as enhanced release of cytokines, neurotransmitters, and leukotrienes; increased neural receptor levels; reduced activity of neutral endopeptidases; transient modulation of afferent neural activity; mucus hypersecretion; and, possibly, effects on cholinergic motor pathways. Recent studies evaluating urge-to-cough (UTC), the sensation of irritation preceding the motor act of coughing, have demonstrated that URI induces a transient enhancement of UTC analogous to the effect observed on cough reflex sensitivity. The recently introduced concept of the Cough Hypersensitivity Syndrome may provide an explanation for the commonly observed clinical phenomenon of acute viral URI triggering what will develop into chronic, refractory cough in a subgroup of patients.