This prospective randomised study compared the antitussive effect of remifentanil during recovery from either propofol or sevoflurane anaesthesia. Seventy-four female patients undergoing thyroidectomy were anaesthetised with either propofol and remifentanil or sevoflurane and remifentanil. During recovery, remifentanil was maintained at an effect-site concentration of 2 ng.ml(-1) until extubation and the occurrence of coughing, haemodynamic parameters and recovery profiles were compared between the two groups. During recovery, neither the incidence nor the severity of cough (incidence 20% with propofol; 24% with sevoflurane, p = 0.77), nor the haemodynamic parameters were different between the two groups. Time to awakening and time to extubation were significantly shorter in the propofol group (4.7 min, 6.1 min min, respectively) compared with the sevoflurane group (7.9 min and 8.9 min respectively) (p < 0.001 and p = 0.002, respectively). An effect-site concentration of 2 ng.ml(-1) of remifentanil was associated with smooth emergence from both propofol and sevoflurane anaesthesia.