How can I stop coughing, or make it not hurt to do so?
November 29, 2010 8:28 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop coughing, or make it not hurt to do so?

A week or so ago I threw my back out. A couple hours later I sneezed and felt something pull in my side. I went to my doctor, he gave me a couple vicodin and sent me away. It was mostly manageable except when I coughed or sneezed, and after a couple days it mostly felt better.
A couple days later the other side started to ache. This morning I coughed and felt several pops and what felt like tearing. It hurt enough that I had to pull my car over and pace the sidewalk for several minutes.
The pain is on my side, from just above my lowest rib to just above my belt.
It's not bothering me too much now, except when I cough, which I'm mostly trying to avoid.
I am always a bit phlegmy and that's the cause of the cough I can't avoid.
What can I do to either kill the phlegm and stop coughing, or how can I cough and not want to die after?
I smoke, and if i stop I cough more.
I sleep on my side and cannot sleep on my back or stomach.
posted by gally99 to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As a singer, I am very much anti-cough. This may or may not work for you (I don't smoke), but whenever I feel any sort of sore throat or sick phlegmy stuff coming on, I gargle with very warm salt water for a total of 20-30 seconds, several times a day until the throat symptoms are gone. This has broken up the phlegm in my throat to the point where I actually have blown it out my nose. Disgusting, but effective. If the phlegm is in your throat, this may work for you. If it's in your lungs, probably not.

Have you tried inhaling steam?
posted by wondermouse at 8:35 PM on November 29, 2010

I have some sort of weird post-eating cough sometimes, and have had good luck with drinking hot tea slowly and menthol gum or lozenges.
posted by sepviva at 8:46 PM on November 29, 2010

This sounds a little like a precordial catch.

Sipping hot milk and honey works well for me as a cough suppressant.
posted by phunniemee at 8:56 PM on November 29, 2010

Steam (a very hot shower) helped a bit, but didn't last too long.
I'll try the salt water.
I've been drinking hot stuff, and it helps for a while, never tried hot milk though. Hmm...
I don't think it's precordial catch; it's much lower on my side and involves a pulled muscle. Also the pain is a lot worse, every time I cough it feels like I'm breaking a rib and pulling the muscle. Sneezes are even worse. Also, with precordial catch it says coughing can make it go away. With me coughing is making the pain worse.

So far I've figured out that if I pull a towel very tightly around my stomach it hurts less to cough.

Thanks a bunch for the help so far folks!
posted by gally99 at 9:10 PM on November 29, 2010

Humidity helps me cough a lot less. You should use a humidifier as much as you can, stay in your steamy bathroom post bath or shower until it dries out, and avoid very dry places. I find breathing slowly and thinking about my breaths can also help, as long as I am careful to breathe neither too deeply nor too shallowly.
posted by jeather at 9:19 PM on November 29, 2010

I had a friend who had walking pneumonia and cracked a rib from coughing. You might want to go back to your doctor.

In the meantime, can you get to a drugstore for a cough suppressant?
posted by rtha at 9:49 PM on November 29, 2010

You said the pain started shortly after you threw your back out. Did your doctor check for a herniated disk? It's fairly common, is painful when you cough or sneeze and can happen without you even knowing it. Second opinion maybe?
posted by platinum at 10:13 PM on November 29, 2010

Humidifiers have really helped me.

I also do something that annoys other people but keeps me from coughing. I make this sort of "grrruuummmm" sound. It helps clean out phlegm but without the concussive force of a cough.

If those don't help, you might want to ask your doctor for help.

I went to the doctor once when I had persistent cough. He determined that it was caused by slight post-nasal drip. He gave me decongestants to stop the drip and an inhaler of Albuterol to help heal my throat.

A friend of mine had a similar problem, but his doctor couldn't really find a cause, so he prescribed him codeine cough syrup to just suppress it.
posted by MonsieurBon at 12:01 AM on November 30, 2010

I recently pulled a chest muscle in the middle of a coughing fit while my dog was standing on my chest. It didn't hurt at the time, but for the past week coughing has been excruciating. I have to raise my arm above my head in order to cough with the least amount of pain, and for several days I had to roll out of bed.

It is better now, but still bad enough that I have to sit up to cough at night, which is a pain.

Hot showers have helped, and three Advil at a time as needed. I don't know if that's more Advil than you're supposed to take - I think it is - but I'm not much of a medication-taker and the pain has been intense.

Anyway, Google 'pulled muscle'. My mom did the same thing once via sneezing. Your pain is lower down, but who knows? Lots of muscles in there.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:26 AM on November 30, 2010

I've been a chronic cougher most of my life. When it's a phlegmy cough, the most effective solution has been to gargle with really salty tea (sort of like the hot salt water gargle, but with black tea instead of water). As wondermouse says, it really breaks up the phlegm, and helps to cough it up or blow it out through the nose. For a dry cough, I often sip several cups a day of warm water with honey and a little lemon juice.

Do see a doctor, though.
posted by bardophile at 4:13 AM on November 30, 2010

A vaporizer helped me tame the post-nasal drip that was giving me a stubborn cough for a while.

But that's a preventative. As for stopping the cough you have, the absolute, hands-down, miracle-cure cough treatment I've found is Buckley's Mixture. I found it by going into a mom-and-pop pharmacy in my neighborhood and telling the guy behind the counter "I just want to stop coughing," and he gave me this. "Here's the thing, though," he said. "It tastes awful. But it really works." And that is absolutely true on both counts -- one spoonful stopped me coughing within only ten minutes.

But. But. Holy CATS in a blender does it taste awful. It tastes like what you'd get if you melted down a mentholated cough drop, used that to brew a tea with pine needles, and then added some ground-up mothball. If it didn't work so blindingly well I would avoid it. But -- it works that well.

I recommended this to an actor in exactly your situation -- the lead of a play I was working on once also once coughed so hard that he threw his back out, and I recommended it. I even brought my bottle in to have at the theater during rehearsals, and after a few days, he finally tried some. I told him where it was, warning him that it tasted bad, and he disappeared into the dressing room -- and then came back two minutes later with a distinctly haunted look. "Wow, you weren't kidding," was all he said. But then ten minutes later, he came back and said "and you weren't kidding about how well it works."

Buckley's mixture. It's a weird little miracle. If you have more of a phlegmy cough, try going for the expectorant instead of the suppressant -- that seemed to work even better.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:39 AM on November 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Steam (a very hot shower) helped a bit, but didn't last too long.

A shower can be nice, but what works better is to heat up some water on the stove (or in a hotpot if you have one) and once it gets steaming hot, pour it into a bowl and put a towel over your head and the bowl as you inhale the steam from it for a few minutes. It's much more direct and effective than a shower, and the water can be hotter than a shower since it's not touching your skin. And this you can do several times a day without shriveling up your skin.

I personally would not recommend hot milk because dairy products generally make any phlegm problem worse for me. But hot tea, or even just hot water, with fresh lemon and honey is pretty good.
posted by wondermouse at 8:15 AM on November 30, 2010

eek, wondermouse! That technique you described is exactly the dreaded "ginger sniff" my mom would make me do when I had the sniffles as a child, except she'd shave ginger into the pot too. God how I hated that.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:34 AM on November 30, 2010

Hi there -
Agreed, I've seen a number of people who have cracked a rib from coughing. This is probably what your doctor presumed had happened already when they gave you the Vicodin, as x-rays are notoriously bad at picking up rib fractures.

I wanted to make the point that if you really want to stop coughing, you've got to quit smoking. It may make you cough more in the short run, but it will definitely make you cough far less in the long run! According to the smoking and health timelines, the chronic cough should clear up about 3 months from when you quit smoking.
"3 weeks to 3 months
Your circulation has substantially improved. Walking has become easier. Your chronic cough, if any, has likely disappeared.
1 to 9 months
Any smoking related sinus congestion, fatigue or shortness of breath have decreased. Cilia have regrown in your lungs thereby increasing their ability to handle mucus, keep your lungs clean, and reduce infections. Your body's overall energy has increased."

Check out this nice illustrated timeline for more information. You can use all the nice techniques you've learned in this thread to suppress the cough during the time you're quitting. Please consider quitting, it's the best thing you can do for your health!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:23 AM on November 30, 2010

When you have significant pain from coughing, you're at increased risk for pneumonia. Coughing is useful, and I wouldn't advise trying to suppress your coughs. If you choose to suppress your coughs, there are plenty of over the counter (in the US) medications you can use. Dextromethorphan is sort of the go-to, non-opiate active ingredient for cough suppression.

If you'd rather do things the right way, then I think you ought to try to fix the pain of coughing. Vicodin is a good start. Is it helping? Are you using it? Pain control isn't just to make your day bearable-- it's to allow you to cough as vigorously as you need to, to get phlegm and secretions and any other misplaced stuff out of your lungs, so you don't get pneumonia.

Splinting your cough can help with the pain. To do this, press a small pillow into your side, where it hurts, before you cough. That helps stabilize the painful part of your chest. Especially useful if you do have a rib crack. Applying an ice pack or a heat pack to the painful part of your side for intervals of ~20 minutes, as often as you'd like, can be useful (use heat or cold depending entirely on what's more convenient for you and which works better-- they're both fine).

Unless you've been advised otherwise, you can add ibuprofen (advil) or naproxen (aleve) on top of the Vicodin and see if that helps your pain. In the US, iboprofen 600-800/4hrs is considered prescription strength. Generally, if you don't have problems with your kidneys, stomach, or bleeding, these high doses of ibuprofen are safe for short periods of time (<1 week), but be sure to take them with food.

Depending on how much Vicodin you're on, it may be possible to add acetaminophen (Tylenol), even on top of iboprofen or naproxen, but be careful about it. Vicodin has acetaminophen in it, and too much acetaminophen is pretty dangerous (for your liver).

Expectorants loosen the phlegm in your lungs. That can make it easier to cough, and it doesn't have the same risk that cough suppressants carry. In the US, the classic over-the-counter expectorant is guaifenesin. Dairy, especially milk, is believed to increase phlegm, and avoiding this while you're having trouble is safe and appropriate.

It's perfectly appropriate to contact your doctor and let him or her know that your pain isn't being managed to your satisfaction. And, yes, please give some careful consideration to quitting smoking.
posted by nathan v at 10:58 AM on November 30, 2010

IANAD, but I had a nasty coughing bout a few years ago and subsequently developed a case of costochondroitis, which is basically an inflammation of the cartilage around the ribs. I would say mine was a bit higher up, but still on the side - I can't exactly remember. It hurt to do everything - cough, sneeze, sit up in bed, put on a shirt. I talked to a doctor about it, but there was nothing to be done other than taking a lot of ibuprofen for about 3 weeks. Just another thought.
posted by sararah at 3:12 PM on November 30, 2010

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