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BACKGROUND: Chronic cough is a disruptive and exhausting symptom, reported as very distressing in a quarter of those in their last year of life. Existing guidelines for management of chronic cough primarily deal with the commonest benign causes of cough: asthma; eosinophilic bronchitis; gastro-oesophageal reflux disease; rhinosinusitis. AIM/DESIGN: to examine what literature evidence exists and formulate recommendations for managing chronic cough in patients with advanced, progressive, life-limiting illnesses. DATA SOURCES: Electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, Google Scholar); hand-search; grey literature. RESULTS: Of 11 initially eligible studies, 5 provided evidence at level 2 or better. The small size of these studies, heterogeneity of study population and diversity of interventions and outcome measures used meant that comparison across studies and compilation of guidelines based on high-quality evidence was not possible. Pragmatic recommendations based on available evidence were formulated, drawing on the included studies and, in addition, extrapolating from two other well-designed studies involving patients with chronic cough. They also took into consideration convenience, toxicity and minimizing burden and harm of intervention, as well as considering the potential for disease-directed treatment and the possibility of pharmacological and co-existing benign causes of chronic cough. CONCLUSIONS: These recommendations (Grade D) include simple linctus, therapeutic trial of sodium cromoglycate and then prescription of an opioid or opioid derivative (dextromethorphan, morphine or codeine). Further research is clearly and urgently required in this area for more effective approaches to managing cough, tested in trials that have sufficient size, power and validity.

Original publication




Journal article


Palliat Med

Publication Date





780 - 787


Chronic Disease, Cough, Evidence-Based Medicine, Humans, Ireland, Palliative Care, Practice Guidelines as Topic, United Kingdom