Recent advances in cough research suggest a more widespread use of cough-provocation tests to demonstrate the hypersensitivity of the cough reflex arc. Cough-provocation tests with capsaicin or acidic aerosols have been used for decades in scientific studies. Several factors have hindered their use in everyday clinical work: lack of standardisation, the need for special equipment and the limited clinical importance of the response. Cough-provocation tests with hypertonic aerosols (CPTHAs) involve provocations with hypertonic saline, hypertonic histamine, mannitol and hyperpnoea. They probably act different mechanisms than capsaicin and acidic aerosols. They are safe and well tolerated and the response is repeatable. CPTHAs can assess not only the sensitivity of the cough reflex arc but also the tendency of the airway smooth muscles to constrict (airway hyper-responsiveness). They can differentiate between subjects with asthma or chronic cough and healthy subjects. The responsiveness to CPTHAs correlates with the cough-related quality of life among asthmatic subjects. Furthermore, the responsiveness to them decreases during treatment of chronic cough. A severe response to CPTHAs may indicate poor long-term prognosis in chronic cough. The mannitol test has been stringently standardised, is easy to administer with simple equipment, and has regulatory approval for the assessment of airway hyper-responsiveness. Manual counting of coughs during a mannitol challenge would allow the measurement of the function of the cough reflex arc as a part of clinical routine.
Copyright ©ERS 2020.