Initial empirical treatment based on clinical feature of chronic cough

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An empirical therapy based on the clinical characteristics of cough had not been reported. We evaluated this strategy of empirical therapy on chronic cough.


Patients with chronic cough were initially diagnosed with corticosteroid-responsive cough (CRC), postnasal drip syndrome (PNDS) and gastroesophageal reflux-related cough (GERC) based on their medical history and clinical presentation, and received a sequential three-step empirical therapy. A successful response was required for final diagnosis.


A total of 96 patients were recruited with a median duration of cough for 4 months (range, 2–100). The primary diagnosis based on history and clinical presentation was CRC in 53 patients (55.2%), PNDS in 36 (37.5%) and GERC in 7 (7.3%). Cough improved in 60 patients (62.5%) at the first step with mean time of 6.2 ± 3.3 days. Three-step empirical therapy was beneficial in 78 of 96 (81.2%) patients at last. The final spectrum and frequency of causes of cough based on therapeutic response were as follows: CRC (46.7%), PNDS (27.5%) and GERC (10.8%). Eighteen cases (18.8%) were not responsive to empirical treatment, seven of whom were identified as other causes by diagnostic tests.


The empirical therapy aimed at primary diagnosis on the basis of history and clinical characteristics is a more targeted approach, and leads to improvement of chronic cough more quickly in most patients. CRC is the most common cause of chronic cough.

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