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Management of patients with chronic cough using a clinical protocol: a prospective observational study.

Cough 2013 January 25
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Chronic cough is a common symptom the aetiology of which can be challenging to diagnose. Diagnostic protocols for chronic cough have required the use of specialist investigations which are not always easily available. We wanted to determine whether patients with chronic cough can be successfully managed using a clinical algorithm.

METHODS: 112 consecutive patients with chronic cough were prospectively recruited into this study. They were assessed by history, physical examination, chest radiograph, spirometry and reversibility to nebulised salbutamol. A clinical diagnosis was made and the patient had an 8-week trial of appropriate therapy. Further therapeutic trials were carried out depending on response to treatment and the possible differential diagnoses. Investigations were carried out in cases of failed clinical trials and to exclude specific pathology. The "clinical arm" comprised patients managed on the basis of clinical assessment and without any investigations. The "investigative arm" comprised those who needed further investigations.

RESULTS: 81 (72%) were managed in the clinical arm. Of these 74 (66%) were discharged following response to therapy. 31 (28%) patients were converted to the investigative arm after failure of diagnosis in the clinical protocol. The commonest causes of cough were gastroesophageal reflux, asthma and chronic rhinitis. 51 (45.5%) patients responded to therapy based on diagnosis at initial assessment while a further 23 (20.5%) patients responded to sequential clinical trials for the commonest causes of cough. Cough severity score improved by a mean of 3.6 points on a numeric response score (from 0-10, p < 0.0001).

CONCLUSION: It is possible to manage a majority of chronic cough patients successfully using a protocol based on presenting symptoms and therapeutic trials for the common causes of cough.

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