Abstract The roles of airway rapidly adapting receptors (RARs) and of C-fibre receptors in the induction of cough are reviewed. It is concluded that, while there is substantial evidence that irritant receptors in the laryngeal wall and RARs in the tracheobronchial mucosa can cause cough, the evidence for such a similar direct role for C-fibre receptors is tenuous. Indeed there is accumulating evidence that the C-fibre receptors may cause apnoea and rapid shallow breathing, and also reflexly inhibit cough. However the C-fibre receptors may release tachykinins when stimulated, and these in turn may cause plasma extravasation from mucosal postcapillary venules. RARs are excited by increases in interstitial liquid volume, so C-fibre receptors may indirectly enhance cough via the RARs.