Sweet minty relief for cough

Paul Wise's research focuses on cough as a chemosensory response. Credit: Paola Nogureas

Millions of Americans reach for their cough drops or syrup at the first sign of a cough. However, scientists are unsure if and how these popular remedies work. Now, new findings from the Monell Center suggest that sucrose and menthol, ingredients commonly regarded as flavorings in these preparations, each act independently to reduce coughing.

Cough is a vital protective reflex that clears the of threats from like food and chemical stimuli such as and pollutants. As such, cough is necessary to protect the lungs, keep airways clear, and preserve life.

"Individuals with a weak cough reflex are at increased risk of pneumonia and of choking. Conversely, many acute and involve frequent coughing, leading to 30 million health care visits annually, with billions spent on over-the-counter medications and billions more lost due to reduced productivity," said lead author, Paul M. Wise, Ph.D., a sensory psychologist at Monell.

However, many aspects of coughing remain poorly understood, including how chemicals act to trigger and modulate cough.

In the current study, which appears in the June 2012 issue of Pulmonary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 12 healthy inhaled from a nebulizer containing capsaicin, the burning ingredient in and a potent chemical stimulus for cough.

After each inhalation, the amount of capsaicin was doubled. This procedure continued until the subject coughed three times within 10 seconds. The capsaicin concentration that induced the three coughs was labeled as the individual's cough threshold.

In some sessions, the subjects held either a very sweet sucrose or plain water in their mouths for three seconds, spat the liquid into a sink, and then inhaled from the .

In other sessions, subjects inhaled three breaths of either menthol-saturated air or clean air before each capsaicin inhalation. The menthol concentration was selected to approximate the cooling intensity of a menthol cigarette.

Both sucrose and menthol increased the amount of capsaicin needed to elicit a cough relative to plain water or clean air, respectively. Sucrose increased cough threshold by about 45 percent, while menthol increased it by approximately 25 percent.

"This is the first study to empirically show that sweet taste reduces cough. This also is the first study to show that menthol alone can reduce coughing in response to a cough-eliciting agent," said Monell sensory scientist Paul Breslin, Ph.D., an author on the study.

The findings support the hypothesis that adding menthol to cigarettes, popularly known as "menthols," may make it easier to begin smoking by suppressing the cough reflex, thus making the first cigarettes less distressing.

" may dull the sensitivity of sensory nerves in the airways and thereby actually disable an important reflex mechanism that would otherwise protect smokers from the chemical and particulate irritants present in cigarette smoke," said Wise.

Studies at Monell will continue to explore the chemical elicitation of cough, along with the receptors and genes involved in this system.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How colds cause coughs and wheezes

Mar 27, 2012

Cold-like infections make 'cough receptors' in the airways more sensitive, making asthmatics more prone to bouts of coughing and wheezing, reveal scientists presenting their findings at the Society for General Microbiology's ...

Recommended for you

Ebola vaccine not before late 2016: GSK researcher

Oct 17, 2014

An Ebola vaccine by British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline may not be ready for commercial use until late 2016 and should therefore not be seen as the "primary answer" to the current outbreak, a company researcher ...

Chimerix gets FDA OK to test drug for Ebola

Oct 17, 2014

(AP)—A North Carolina drugmaker plans to test its experimental antiviral drug in patients who have Ebola, after getting authorization from regulators at the Food and Drug Administration.

Esbriet, ofev approved to treat deadly lung disease

Oct 16, 2014

(HealthDay)—Two new drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat progressive lung scarring from an uncertain cause, medically called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

FDA weighs removing bolded warning from Chantix

Oct 14, 2014

(AP)—The Food and Drug Administration will ask a panel of experts later this week whether a bold-letter warning on the anti-smoking drug Chantix should be removed based on company-supported evidence that the drug does not ...

Drug-coated balloon catheter approved

Oct 13, 2014

(HealthDay)—The first drug-coated balloon catheter designed to clear narrowed or blocked arteries in the thigh and knee has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

User comments