Inhalation of menthol reduces capsaicin cough sensitivity and influences inspiratory flows in chronic cough

Eva Millqvist, Ewa Ternesten-Hasséus, Mats Bende
Respiratory Medicine 2013, 107 (3): 433-8

INTRODUCTION: Chronic cough is a common clinical problem and there is a shortage of effective treatments for it. Within the group of transient receptor potential ion channels a receptor for the cooling substance menthol has been identified. This study aimed to assess whether pre-inhalation of dissolved, nebulised menthol could increase capsaicin cough thresholds and influence spirometric values.

METHODS: Fourteen patients with chronic cough and airway sensitivity to environmental irritants and 15 control subjects were tested on three occasions. Each one inhaled a 1 mL of nebulised menthol solution of 0.5% or 1% or placebo (saline with 0.05% menthol) at each visit in a randomized and double-blind order. They were then provoked by capsaicin inhalation.

RESULTS: Patients' cough thresholds differed significantly from the controls' on all three provocations (P < 0.0001). After inhalation of 1% menthol, the patients' cough thresholds were significantly higher (P < 0.02) compared to after placebo inhalation and to after 0.5% menthol inhalation (P < 0.05). The patients' peak inspiratory flows were significantly reduced after inhalation of the placebo (saline) (P < 0.05) but not after inhalation of 0.5% or 1% menthol. Forced inspiratory flows 50% were lowered after inhalation of placebo and of 0.5% menthol (P < 0.05) but not after 1% menthol. Among the controls, forced inspiratory flows 50% were lowered after only placebo inhalation (P < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: In patients with chronic cough, pre-inhalation of menthol reduces cough sensitivity to inhaled capsaicin and influences inspiratory flows. The findings may provide scientific support for the common practice of using menthol as a reliever for variant airway discomfort. The use of menthol in different cigarette brands could be questioned since it could conceal the natural irritation following smoking.

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