Purpose This study evaluated the safety and efficacy of a sensory stimulation protocol that was designed to modulate citric acid cough thresholds as a potential treatment for silent aspiration. Method Healthy adults (n = 24) were randomly assigned to one of three sensory stimulation groups: (a) high-intensity ultrasonically nebulized distilled water (UNDW) inhalations (1.6 ml/min); (b) low-intensity UNDW inhalations (0.5 ml/min); and (3) control, 0.9% saline inhalations (1.6 ml/min). Sensory stimulation was delivered once a day, for 4 consecutive days. Citric acid cough thresholds were determined at baseline, Day 3, and Day 5 to evaluate changes in cough sensitivity. Spirometry was undertaken before, during, and after each sensory stimulation session to monitor for bronchoconstriction. Results No participant showed evidence of bronchoconstriction during the sensory stimulation protocol. There was an interaction effect between day and group on suppressed cough thresholds, χ2(4) = 11.32, p = .02. When compared to the control group, there was a decrease in citric acid cough thresholds across Days 1-5 in the high-intensity (-1.8 doubling concentrations, 95% confidence interval [-2.88, -0.72], p = .01) and low-intensity (-1.3 doubling concentrations, 95% confidence interval [-2.4, -0.2], p = .03) UNDW inhalation groups, representing a sensitization effect of UNDW inhalations on cough sensitivity. Conclusions The UNDW sensory stimulation protocol was safe in healthy adults. The findings provide preliminary evidence that UNDW inhalations sensitize laryngeal afferents related to citric acid-induced cough induction. The therapeutic potential of the UNDW sensory stimulation protocol will be explored in patients with reduced cough sensitivity who are at risk of silent aspiration and aspiration pneumonia. Plain Language Summary This study explored the safety and efficacy of a sensory stimulation protocol that was designed to modulate cough sensitivity as a potential treatment for silent aspiration. The study revealed that inhalations of nebulized distilled water were safe and increased cough sensitivity, when compared to control saline inhalations.
- Sensory Stimulation
- Modulate Cough