Inhaled Corticosteroids and Placebo Treatment Effects in Adult Patients With Cough: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Seung Eun Lee, Ji Hyang Lee, Hyun Jung Kim, Byung Jae Lee, Sang Heon Cho, David Price, Alyn H Morice, Woo Jung Song* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


PURPOSE: Inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) are often considered an empirical therapy in the management of patients with cough. However, ICS responsiveness is difficult to interpret in daily clinical practice, as the improvements may include placebo effects or self-remission. We aimed to evaluate ICS and placebo treatment effects in adult patients with cough.

METHODS: Electronic databases were searched for studies published until June 2018, without language restriction. Randomized controlled trials reporting the effects of ICSs compared with placebo in adult patients with cough were included. Random effects meta-analyses were conducted to estimate the treatment effects. Therapeutic gain was calculated by subtracting the percentage change from baseline in the cough score in the ICS treatment group from that in the placebo treatment group.

RESULTS: A total of 9 studies were identified and 8 studies measuring cough severity outcomes were included for meta-analyses. Therapeutic gain from ICSs ranged from -5.0% to +94.6% across the studies included; however, it did not exceed +22%, except for an outlier reporting very high therapeutic gains (+45.6% to +94.6%, depending on outcomes). Overall ICS treatment effects in cough severity outcomes were small-to-moderate (standardized mean difference [SMD], -0.38; 95% confidence interval [CI], -0.54, -0.23), which were comparable between subacute and chronic coughs. However, pooled placebo treatment effects were very large in subacute cough (SMD, -2.58; 95% CI, -3.03, -2.1), and modest but significant in chronic cough (SMD, -0.46; 95% CI, -0.72, -0.21).

CONCLUSIONS: Overall therapeutic gain from ICSs is small-to-moderate. However, placebo treatment effects of ICS are large in subacute cough, and modest but still significant in chronic cough. These findings indicate the need for careful interpretation of ICS responsiveness in the management of cough patients in the clinic, and also for rigorous patient selection to identify ICS-responders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)856-870
Number of pages15
JournalAllergy, Asthma & Immunology Research
Issue number6
Early online date28 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2019 The Korean Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Clinical Immunology · The Korean Academy of Pediatric Allergy and Respiratory Disease.


  • cough
  • steroids
  • placebo effect
  • meta-analysis
  • Cough
  • Placebo effect
  • Meta-analysis
  • Steroids


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