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Should I worry about these symptoms?
October 9, 2004 5:16 PM   Subscribe

You Are Not A Doctor: Three weeks ago, I got a nasty head cold that never quite went away. It's now settled into my chest, and I have a chronic, slightly productive cough. Ordinarily, I would just wait it out, but I'm exhausted, can't really get a full breath, and the stuff I'm coughing up tastes like bleach. I swear, I haven't been inhaling or gargling bleach. I do have an appointment to see my doctor on Wednesday (the earliest I could get in,) but I was wondering if anyone else had had these symptoms and could tell me what caused them, so I can quit Googling medical conditions and diagnosing myself with lung abscesses and tuberculosis.
posted by headspace to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If you're coughing up phlegm, it could be a case of bronchitis.

The important thing is not get paranoid because of things the Internet tells you and at the same time not to dismiss and underestimate your symptoms or avoid a trip to the emergency room if you're getting worse.
posted by Krrrlson at 6:00 PM on October 9, 2004


No, But I'm A Medical Student (But Again, Not A Doctor):

Sorry you haven't gotten better yet. Sounds more like a complicated viral infection or a viral cold that left you susceptible to a bacterial lower respiratory infection. The virus-followed-by-bacteria theme is common in respiratory infections. Bacterial infections, especially anaerobic bacteria, are usually implicated in foul-smelling sputum.

Tuberculosis is a common cause of lung abscesses; unless you're coughing up blood, you have night sweats, or you've lost weight, TB doesn't present as a head cold moving down into the lungs, as far as I've been taught.

Just a couple of ideas, but again, I'm no doctor, and no doctor would give a diagnosis without seeing you, either. Keep well hydrated, take vitamins, and get rest. If you get worse and you're concerned about it, go to the ER. You can also call your doctor and plead to try to get seen sooner. Feel better!
posted by gramcracker at 6:16 PM on October 9, 2004


Headspace, gramcracker's done the hard part, so I'll only send you big air kisses (in between productive coughs) and wishes for you to get well soon.
posted by melissa may at 6:39 PM on October 9, 2004


This sounds very similar to a bronchial infection I would get each and every year throughout my 20s -- I'd get hit with a viral infection of some kind and then develop a secondary bacterial infection with a nasty, rattling cough that lingered for a couple of months if untreated. In my case, antibiotics did wonders for the bronchitis, but if you find you're actually improving without them there's little reason to go running off to the doctor for them.
posted by majick at 6:47 PM on October 9, 2004


Also some emergency rooms have a number you can call to speak with a nurse. If you are concerned, couldn't hurt to give them a call.
posted by konolia at 7:11 PM on October 9, 2004


I had similar symptoms last year, and it turned out I had pneumonia. It wasn't as bad as I had imagined pneumonia would be, but it did knock me on my ass.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:20 PM on October 9, 2004


Thank you guys so much for your experience, and your good wishes, I really appreciate it. It's not getting *worse*, it's just not getting better and I was really kind of surprised when I started tasting bleach with each cough. Since the consensus seems to be bacterial, I think I'll hang on until I see the doctor on Wednesday now that I know I'm not going to die (gracefully and delicately with a cough!) of consumption. *grin*
posted by headspace at 9:44 PM on October 9, 2004


Don't discount pnueoemoneia (I can't spell it). Anyway, I had a case of walking pneuomueoneea once and didn't know it.
posted by crazy finger at 10:27 PM on October 9, 2004


Oh, but I am a doctor.

no doctor would give a diagnosis without seeing you, either

Really? I think Good Samaritan laws cover me for the following advice:

Sounds like pneumonia - what we call 'walking pneumonia'. Get into the E/R before you become septic. The chest X-ray will diagnose you and 5 days of azithromycin or some such will probably clear it up.

What is today - Sunday? No, Wednesday is too long.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:10 PM on October 9, 2004


I'll also advise getting some medical attention before Wednesday. When I get a cold, it always ends up in my lungs and as bronchitis after the head symptoms are all cleared up, so I didn't think much about the coughing and whatnot until it was nearly two weeks later and I felt like crap, and also had the bleach taste in the sputum. An x-ray revealed that it was, indeed, pneumonia.

A course of some serious antibiotics (the kind that required much cranberry juice and yogurt) knocked it out, and fortunately, I also began to feel an improvement after about 36 hours.

Take care of yourself and get better!
posted by Dreama at 11:49 PM on October 9, 2004 [1 favorite]


Careful with the word chronic when describing symptoms. It means recurring long-term. If it emerged in the last three weeks it isn't chronic. The reason I mention this is that you're googling for information, and if you're using the term it might throw your results off. NHSDirect can be good for self-diagnosis, I gather. Good luck.
posted by nthdegx at 4:02 AM on October 10, 2004


Are there doc in the boxes in your area? I know there are in my area, so maybe this isn't an option for you, but if it is you don't need an appt. You just drop by.

I'd avoid the emergency room like the plague. It could go well, or it could be awful. You'll be categorized as the least critical (green here) and you could wait 8 hours (of course, if they're not busy you could be seen right away). It will also be quite expensive.

And the doctors in the emergency room? I'll just stop there.
posted by justgary at 8:08 AM on October 10, 2004


Overruled by the doc. Wouldn't be the first time; won't be the last.
posted by gramcracker at 9:04 AM on October 10, 2004


I'm not a doctor, but I have had pneumonia, and that's what I thought of as soon as I read the initial question, before I even got to the comments from others. Pneumonia is quite unpleasant and, well, it can kill you. It doesn't have to these days, but that's why we have emergency rooms and antibiotics.
posted by bingo at 9:22 AM on October 10, 2004


Well, gram gets points for the diagnosis- I have bronchitis, and lots of lovely antibiotics and codeine cough syrup now, but ikkyu gets points for sending me to the doctor today. If I'd waited 'til Wednesday and felt any better, I probably wouldn't have gotten the chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia, and they wouldn't have found the mass that's in my right lung. I'm a little shell-shocked, but better to find out now than when it's too late.Thank you guys all for your good wishes and your suggestions, I really appreciate it.
posted by headspace at 12:40 PM on October 10, 2004


Wow. headspace, good luck. I am glad they did the X-ray. I can only imagine how you must feel now.

Regarding pneumonia/bronchitis, there's kind of a fine line between the two sometimes. I have had bronchitis frequently (asthma will do that to you) and when I got pneumonia a while back, I thought it was just bronchitis again -- it was basically the same only a little worse than usual.
posted by litlnemo at 5:14 PM on October 10, 2004


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