Aims Unexplained chronic cough is a common condition with no satisfactory treatments. Previous work has suggested that cough may be linked to neutrophilic airway inflammation. This study tested the hypothesis that long-term low-dose erythromycin reduces the induced sputum neutrophil count and 24 h cough frequency in patients with unexplained chronic cough.
Methods 30 patients with an unexplained chronic cough lasting more than 8 weeks were randomly assigned to take 250 mg erythromycin once daily (n=15) or placebo (n=15) for 12 weeks in a double-blind parallel group study. Cough frequency, cough reflex sensitivity and cough severity were assessed at baseline, 6, 12 and 24 weeks. The primary outcome measure was change in 24 h cough frequency at 12 weeks.
Results There was no difference in the change in cough frequency between the erythromycin and placebo groups at 12 weeks (mean difference in fold change 1.1; 95% CI 0.7 to 1.5; p=0.585) or at other times. There was a statistically significant between-treatment difference in the change in sputum neutrophils at 12 weeks (−10.2% vs +6.6% with erythromycin and placebo; mean difference 16.8%; 95% CI 1.6 to 32.1; p=0.03) but not at other times. There was no difference in the change in other measures of cough between treatments.
Conclusions Treatment with low-dose erythromycin for 12 weeks reduces the induced sputum neutrophil count but not cough frequency or severity in patients with unexplained chronic cough.
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Funding Institutional funds.
Competing interests None.
Patient consent Obtained.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland research ethics committee and the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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