Cough Severity Visual Analog Scale Assesses Cough Burden and Predicts Survival in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Zhe Wu, David J.F. Smith, Leda Yazbeck, Peter Saunders, Jaclyn A Smith, Toby M Maher, Philip L Molyneaux

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive fibrotic lung disease, with most patients reporting cough. Currently, there are no proven treatments. We examined the use of low dose controlled-release morphine compared with placebo as an antitussive therapy in individuals with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
The PACIFY COUGH study is a phase 2, multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, two-way crossover trial done in three specialist centres in the UK. Eligible patients aged 40–90 years had a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis within 5 years, self-reported cough (lasting >8 weeks), and a cough visual analogue scale (VAS) score of 30 mm or higher. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to placebo twice daily or controlled-release morphine 5 mg orally twice daily for 14 days followed by crossover after a 7-day washout period. Patients were randomised sequentially to a sequence group defining the order in which morphine and placebo were to be given, according to a computer-generated schedule. Patients, investigators, study nurses, and pharmacy personnel were masked to treatment allocation. The primary endpoint was percentage change in objective awake cough frequency (coughs per h) from baseline as assessed by objective digital cough monitoring at day 14 of treatment in the intention-to-treat population, which included all randomised participants. Safety data were summarised for all patients who took at least one study drug and did not withdraw consent. This study was registered at, NCT04429516, and has been completed.
Between Dec 17, 2020, and March 21, 2023, 47 participants were assessed for eligibility and 44 were enrolled and randomly allocated to treatment. Mean age was 71 (SD 7·4) years, and 31 (70%) of 44 participants were male and 13 (30%) were female. Lung function was moderately impaired; mean forced vital capacity (FVC) was 2·7 L (SD 0·76), mean predicted FVC was 82% (17·3), and mean predicted diffusion capacity of carbon monoxide was 48% (10·9). Of the 44 patients who were randomised, 43 completed morphine treatment and 41 completed placebo treatment. In the intention-to-treat analysis, morphine reduced objective awake cough frequency by 39·4% (95% CI –54·4 to –19·4; p=0·0005) compared with placebo. Mean daytime cough frequency reduced from 21·6 (SE 1·2) coughs per h at baseline to 12·8 (1·2) coughs per h with morphine, whereas cough rates did not change with placebo (21·5 [SE 1·2] coughs per h to 20·6 [1·2] coughs per h). Overall treatment adherence was 98% in the morphine group and 98% in the placebo group. Adverse events were observed in 17 (40%) of 43 participants in the morphine group and six (14%) of 42 patients in the placebo group. The main side-effects of morphine were nausea (six [14%] of 43 participants) and constipation (nine [21%] of 43). One serious adverse event (death) occurred in the placebo group.
In patients with cough related to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, low dose controlled-release morphine significantly reduced objective cough counts over 14 days compared with placebo. Morphine shows promise as an effective treatment to palliate cough in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and longer term studies should be the focus of future research.
The Jon Moulton Charity Trust.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1165-1167
Number of pages3
JournalAmerican Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Issue number9
Early online date1 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2024


  • Aged
  • Cough
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis/mortality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Visual Analog Scale


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