Cough is among the most common complaints for which patients worldwide seek medical attention. Thus, the evaluation and treatment of cough result in tremendous financial expenditure and consumption of health care resources. Yet, despite the clinical significance of cough, research efforts aimed at improving diagnostic capabilities and developing more effective therapeutic agents have been, to date, disappointing in their limited scope and outcomes. Acute cough due to the common cold represents the most common type of cough. Currently, available medications for the symptomatic management of acute cough are inadequate due to lack of proven efficacy and/or their association with undesirable or intolerable side effects at anti-tussive doses. Subacute cough, often representing a prolonged post-viral response, is typically refractory to standard anti-tussive therapy. Few clinical trials have evaluated therapeutic options for subacute cough. Diagnostic challenges facing the clinician in the management of chronic cough include the determination of whether symptoms of upper airway cough syndrome (formerly, postnasal drip syndrome) or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease are indeed the underlying cause of cough. Chronic, refractory unexplained (formerly, idiopathic) cough must be distinguished from cough that has not been fully evaluated and treated according to current guideline recommendations. Eagerly awaited are new safe and effective anti-tussive agents for use when cough suppression is desired, regardless of underlying aetiology of cough, as well as practical, validated ambulatory cough counters to aid clinical assessment and future research in the field of cough.
LINKED ARTICLES This article is part of a themed issue on Respiratory Pharmacology. To view the other articles in this issue visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2011.163.issue-1