Practice Guidelines

ACCP Releases Guideline for the Treatment of Unexplained Chronic Cough


Am Fam Physician. 2016 Jun 1;93(11):950.

Key Points for Practice

• Unexplained chronic cough should be diagnosed if cough persists for longer than eight weeks with no etiology identified.

• Multimodality speech pathology therapy is recommended for adults with unexplained chronic cough.

• A trial of gabapentin may also be used to treat chronic cough

From the AFP Editors

Persistent cough with an unknown etiology is difficult to treat and can significantly affect quality of life. Although the evidence for the diagnosis and treatment of adults with unexplained chronic cough is limited, the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) has released guidelines based on the best available evidence. Further study is needed to establish universal terminology and the optimal method of investigation.



Unexplained chronic cough should be diagnosed if cough persists for longer than eight weeks with no etiology identified after evaluation and supervised therapeutic trial(s) that follow published best-practice guidelines. Key to the definition of unexplained chronic cough are adequate assessment, investigation, and therapy.

Adults with unexplained chronic cough should undergo a guideline/protocol-based assessment, including objective testing for bronchial hyperresponsiveness and eosinophilic bronchitis, or a therapeutic corticosteroid trial.


Multimodality speech pathology therapy (e.g., education, counseling, cough suppression techniques, breathing exercises) is recommended for adults with unexplained chronic cough. A therapeutic trial of gabapentin (Neurontin) is also recommended. However, the evidence is limited, and there is a possibility of adverse effects. The risk-benefits profile should be discussed with the patient before initiating gabapentin and reassessed at six months.

Inhaled corticosteroids should not be used in patients with unexplained chronic cough and negative results on testing for bronchial hyperresponsiveness and eosinophilia (sputum eosinophils, exhaled nitric oxide). Proton

Coverage of guidelines from other organizations does not imply endorsement by AFP or the AAFP.

This series is coordinated by Sumi Sexton, MD, Associate Deputy Editor.

A collection of Practice Guidelines published in AFP is available at



Copyright © 2016 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions

CME Quiz

More in AFP

Editor's Collections

Related Content

More in Pubmed


Jun 15, 2017

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article