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Analysis of Clinicians’ Perceptual Cough Evaluation


This study examined the relationships between subjective descriptors and objective airflow measures of cough. We hypothesized that coughs with specific airflow characteristics would share common subjective perceptual descriptions. Thirty clinicians (speech-language pathologists, otolaryngologists, and neurologists) perceptually evaluated ten cough audio samples with specific airflow characteristics determined by peak expiratory flow rate, cough expired volume, cough duration, and number of coughs in the cough epoch. Participants rated coughs by strength, duration, quality, quantity, and overall potential effectiveness for airway protection. Perception of cough strength and effectiveness was determined by the combination of presence of pre-expulsive compression phase, short peak expiratory airflow rate rise time, high peak expiratory flow rates, and high cough volume acceleration. Perception of cough abnormality was defined predominantly by descriptors of breathiness and strain. Breathiness was characteristic for coughs with either absent compression phases and relatively high expiratory airflow rates or coughs with significantly low expired volumes and reduced peak flow rates. In contrast, excessive strain was associated with prolonged compression phases and low expiratory airflow rates or the absence of compression phase with high peak expiratory rates. The study participants reached greatest agreement in distinguishing between single and multiple coughs. Their assessment of cough strength and effectiveness was less consistent. Finally, the least agreement was shown in determining the quality categories. Modifications of cough airflow can influence perceptual cough evaluation outcomes. However, the inconsistency of cough ratings among our participants suggests that a uniform cough rating system is required.

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Correspondence to Helena Laciuga.

Additional information

This work was performed at the University of Florida.



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Laciuga, H., Brandimore, A.E., Troche, M.S. et al. Analysis of Clinicians’ Perceptual Cough Evaluation. Dysphagia 31, 521–530 (2016).

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  • Voluntary cough
  • Clinical/bedside assessment
  • Dysphagia
  • Cough perception
  • Cough airflow
  • Airway protection