Coughing was induced in seven normal and eight asthmatic subjects by giving successive inhalations of citric acid aerosols of progressively higher concentration (range 0.5-32%). A baseline cough response was obtained on each of four experimental days, and there was no significant difference between days in this respect. Then the subjects received by inhalation either a bronchodilator (salbutamol 5 mg or ipratropium 1 mg) or placebo, in a paired double blind crossover design. A second citric acid run followed and was used for paired drug-placebo comparisons. In the asthmatic subjects the cough response was diminished by both bronchodilators (p less than 0.05), and the cough threshold was significantly higher after ipratropium but not salbutamol. In normal subjects no significant effects were found. Airways calibre was assessed, by an oscillatory technique that measures the resistance of the respiratory system (Siemens Siregnost FD 5), in four of the seven normal and all eight asthmatic subjects. The mean respiratory resistance was higher in asthmatic than in normal subjects, and fell significantly after both bronchodilators. In normal subjects smaller decreases in respiratory resistance occurred, significant only with salbutamol. The simplest hypothesis which explains the results relates change in cough response to altered neuroreceptor sensitivity associated with rapid changes in bronchial calibre.
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