Lowering the bar on the definition of "healthy"
January 6, 2010 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Why haven't I fully recovered from bronchitis, six months later?

Way back in July of last year, I got really sick. It seemed to be a flu that just got worse and worse: I had chills, body aches, a fever, my head was cloudy, my nose was perpetually plugged up, I was constantly expectorating green mucus, and I lost most of my voice. After suffering for about a week in bed, I decided this was like no flu I'd ever had and went to an urgent care clinic. They took a chest X-ray and the doctor said he wasn't sure but he thought it might be bronchitis (gotta love non-commital diagnoses). He prescribed me some antibiotics and sent me on my way.

I was still feeling bad after finishing the antibiotic regimen and wasn't convinced it did anything at all, but eventually my body seemed to get over *whatever I had* on its own, and in a couple weeks I was moving around and feeling clear-headed again. Today, six months later, I still feel good. Except that I've been ...mucusy... ever since the sickness. And I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever return completely to normal.

I feel healthy but my nose still gets plugged up several times a day and I have to blow it. I'm constantly coughing up loogies and spitting out largish chunks of yellow phlegm. I sneeze more than normal. Sometimes my stuffy nose starts whistling softly when I breathe as usual. I never had these problems before but they've been a constant annoyance ever since I got sick. Any chance there's still some virus/bacteria hanging around in my system that I can destroy once and for all with the right technique? Or is this a symptom of my mid-20s body leaving the healthiness of its "prime?" In the past, healing from disease was total, not partial like this. Should I expect more of the same as I get older?

I know. YANMD. Suggestions still appreciated.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could have had a viral, and not bacterial, infection, in which case antibiotics would not have done anything to kill it off.
posted by dfriedman at 3:41 PM on January 6, 2010

Two thoughts: First you should be asking a doctor this question. A thorough examination, work-up and some tests on the stuff you're bringing up will better answer this question than a bunch of us who cannot see you or objectively review your symptoms.

Second, it sounds like you might have a fungal infection rather than a virus or bacteriological infection. Are you living in damp, musty surroundings? Is there heavy dust, mold or mildew near or in your home? Again, a doctor can do some very simple tests and prescribe anti-fungal medications if the test results are positive. If they are, you should consider moving away from the source or taking steps to reduce the problem.
posted by Old Geezer at 3:44 PM on January 6, 2010

Respiratory problems and excessive mucus are not a normal part of the aging process. Go back to the doctor.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:48 PM on January 6, 2010

Thanks for the advice so far. If it helps, I live in the desert of New Mexico. Plenty of dust; dampness, mold and mildew, not so much.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 4:01 PM on January 6, 2010

Unfortunately, really bad bronchitis can stick with you for years--long after the bacterial or viral infection clears up.

I was in Iraq for 15 months and got bronchitis (very dusty and I run regularly). I was really sick and settled into a kind of steady state sick for about 2 months (no anti-biotics where I was). I didn't get better until I moved out of the tents and into a less dusty living container (a "hooch"). I got better finally and eventually came home but my lungs never fully recovered. Everything healthwise is normal now (no stuffy nose, no coughs, nothing you list) except when I laugh you can hear the bronchitis. I have what sounds a little like a "smokers" laugh. Sometimes laughing makes me cough. It sucks but there's not much I can do.

My situation is not your situation. But you should read my situation and resolve to get answers and get it fixed as soon as possible so you don't end up having some chronic crappy condition.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 4:14 PM on January 6, 2010

I had bronchitis (like, last week) and the doc asked me what color my snot was. It was yellow, so she told me it was sinusitis and that although the antibiotics wouldn't do anything for that, I should stay hydrated, use a humidifier, take Mucinex, etc. No using decongestants. She said that developing sinusitis was a common effect of having bronchitis, since your defenses are down. She also told me that it's really hard to get rid of. I am not a medical professional, just repeating what she said.
posted by desjardins at 4:18 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

FWIW I've followed her instructions and other than a slight cough, I'm good now (after having this for two weeks).
posted by desjardins at 4:19 PM on January 6, 2010

Or is this a symptom of my mid-20s body leaving the healthiness of its "prime?

Well FWIW, I'm 34, have had chronic bronchitis, several chronic sinus infections, have ongoing hayfever type allergies and I don't have the symptoms you're describing. So personally I'd go back to the Dr. It may be that you have a lingering infection they an help you with or it may be something else (my bronchitis was caused by GERD), either way I don't think it's just an age thing you need to put up with.
posted by shelleycat at 4:30 PM on January 6, 2010

When you said New Mexico, I though of Valley Fever. It's a fungal infection endemic to the US Southwest, mild in some people and quite serious in others, and might be worth at least asking a doctor about given what you've been going through.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:53 PM on January 6, 2010

Here comes the obligatory scary anecdote: a few years ago, a family member also had a lingering multi-month cough with other common respiratory illness symptoms. The medications prescribed by the doctor apparently weren't the right ones to deal with what seems to have been the real illness: a mild, lingering case of "walking" pneumonia. One day it went abruptly from mild to life-threatening after a rapid series of stressful events. Luckily, this person made it to a hospital in time.

Since then I have always advised friends with very persistent, phlegmy coughs to see a doctor and eliminate this frightening possibility. Perhaps this kind of thing is rare, though; I couldn't say for sure.
posted by tss at 5:04 PM on January 6, 2010

I have no idea what you might have, but FWIW I have found that using a neti pot really helps me get over lingering colds/flu/bronchitis. Granted none of mine lingered quite this long, so I would also check in with a doctor at this point for sure.
posted by grapesaresour at 5:13 PM on January 6, 2010

I do think you should go back to your doctor. But in addition, if you're not already, start rinsing your sinuses. Some people swear by neti pots, but I prefer a squeeze bottle. Getting some salty water through your nose and sinuses will help to keep your nasal passages healthy, especially in your dry, dusty climate. I guarantee that it'll make you feel better.
posted by decathecting at 5:25 PM on January 6, 2010

A healthy person in their 20's should recover from a respiratory infection completely within a few weeks. On the other hand smoking, asthma, and a variety of other conditions can slow things down considerably. The current medical thinking is that most cases of bronchitis will be helped little if any by antibiotics; for more information on this and other topics related to bronchitis, the CDC has a good website. Since this has been going on for six months I would say a visit to a physician is a good idea; rather than an urgent care office an internist or family practitioner would have better access to specialists and more advanced testing if that sort of thing is needed. The nasal irrigation suggested above might provide some relief but if you have something going on in your lungs it is unlikely to fix it entirely.
posted by TedW at 7:45 PM on January 6, 2010

Yeah, back to the doc to eliminate these other possibilities. And keep that dust out of your lungs. Really. Dust in the lungs can do nasty things.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:59 PM on January 6, 2010

Nth-ing "back to the doc." I had what seemed like a lingering case of bronchitis that turned out to be a mycoplasma infection; several rounds of antibiotics hadn't touched it, but when the mycoplasma was finally diagnosed they gave me another med that cured it within a week.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:21 PM on January 6, 2010

When I was in my twenties, I had a bad case of bronchitis which I did not get proper treatment for (I thought I was invincible.) For ten years after that, I had problems similar to what you described off and on. I finally decided to try to strengthen my lungs. I started swimming which requires deep breaths, holding my breath for long periods of time, etc. That did the trick. Now if I get a cold, it does not linger in my lungs for the next two months.
posted by eleslie at 8:09 AM on January 7, 2010

I get a chronic bronchial irritation in winter, generally kicked off by a bout of cold or flu. It gets better when the weather improves. It's been labeled Reactive Airway Disease, and Cold-Induced Asthma. It seems to be caused by inflammation. A steroid inhaler helps a great deal, as do menthol cough drops.

Singing is another way to get good lung capacity.
posted by theora55 at 10:04 AM on January 7, 2010

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