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Seven Tips to Minimize Coughing


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How words come into our language is fascinating. A case in point is the word expectorate.  Expectorare is Latin and it means expelling from the chest, and that is exactly the challenge we face during and after lung cancer treatment. We cough, a lot, and how can we minimize it. Here is what works for me.

1. The Power of Steam. My all time favorite way to reduce coughing and sooth my airway is to turn on the shower to very, very hot, sit close to the floor where the stream forms, and breathe in the abundance of steam. Steam works miracles. It soothes the dry scratchy lower throat and upper airway. It breaks up mucous and makes it easy to expel. And, it is a remedy one can use multiple times per day as the need arises. Stay out of the water; the objective is reducing coughing and not inducing 2nd degree burns!

2. Eliminate Dust. After multiple thoracic surgeries, I've got an area of my trachea that has an abundance of scar tissue. When dust is encountered, this gets inflamed and breathing becomes very difficult. Hopefully, most will not have this problem but after surgery, incisions inside the airway and lung are sensitive to irritants and dust is chief among them. Medical radiation can also cause irritation. If you have a forced air heating system, install a new return plenum that houses a sophisticated HEPA filter. Also, install a whole house humidifier in your supply plenum (see plenum here). The filter reduces dust; adding humidity during heating forces dust particles out of the air. Both are essential because dust is the enemy. Don't have a forced air HVAC? Then install a HEPA filter air "purifier" in every room. These units don't real purify the air, but if they have a HEPA filter, then they will eliminate 99.97-percent of particles in the air with the particulate diameter of 0.3 microns (that is dust). These units can be pricy. Consult testing services like Consumer Reports to ensure you purchase a quality unit (I have one in every room except bathrooms). Ensure they perform well at low fan speed. You don't want to eliminate dust pollution by adding noise pollution. Change the filters; use a calendar and schedule filter changes and abide by the schedule.

3. Fight Spasms with a Nebulizer. Despite my best efforts at mitigation, I often experience coughing spasms. When my steam shower doesn't stop coughing, I turn to albuterol and my nebulizer. The former comes in vials as a prescription medication while the latter is a machine that converts a liquid into a fine mist. On bad days, I may need to use it every couple of hours but it works.

4. Pollen is Outside Dust. As a youngster I was sneezing; now I'm wheezing. Spring and Fall are delightful save for the pollen that is a nightmare. My best tactic is to stay indoors. I consult the weather forecast that now includes predicted pollen concentrations and avoid going out during periods of high counts. Opening the windows in Spring and Fall once was a welcome ritual. Now they stay closed, and I use my HVAC fan only to ventilate and filter. In the summer, my air-conditioning flows through HEPA filtered heating ductwork. I also have rescue inhalers prescribed by my pulmonologist to use when caught outdoors in high concentrations of pollen. What about driving? Most automobiles have a recirculation switch that minimizes the intake of outside air. Switch it on and use the car's cabin filer. 

5. Stay Away From Smoke. Yes, of course I mean cigarette, cigar or pipe smoke, but also environmental smoke must be avoided at all cost. This incudes burning leaves, barbecue, wood fires, vehicle exhaust fumes, and cooking smoke. Smoke irritates and irritation spurs coughing.

6. Mucinex is Your Friend. It seems any cold I acquire these days becomes a chest cold. Chest congestion produces coughing and Mucinex makes your coughing productive. It is the best over-the-counter remedy sold. Keep a supply on hand just in case.

7. Old Reliable Halls. These days, I'm plagued with a dry mouth and dry throat. These combine to produce coughing. Nothing soothes better than a Halls Cough Drop. Buy them in quantity and carry a supply in your pocket or purse. I prefer the citrus variety but all work. 

Stay the course.

Tom

 

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