Lingering Cough
December 31, 2003 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I've got the Toxic Death Flu. [more inside]

I am mostly over it, but I have a lingering, hacking cough that nothing seems to help--I'm drinking massive amounts of fluids, eating hard candy and throat drops, trying to talk as little as possible, and I'm still having these debilitating coughing fits every 15 minutes or so. The problem seems to be that my throat is dry, which triggers the coughing, but staying as hydrated as I can doesn’t seem to be helping.

I am taking somewhat regular doses of Robitussin DM, but I’ve never really had much luck with cough syrups. I tried Dayquil a few days ago, but it made me completely loopy and I have a sensitivity to Sudafed, so I try to stay away from medicines containing Sudafed as much as possible. And again, it didn’t really help.

I’m at my absolute end here. I cannot cope with this much longer. Going to a doctor is not an option, because I don’t have health insurance. Does anyone have any suggestions?
posted by eilatan to Health & Fitness (33 answers total)
Eccinacea tea might help.
posted by cmonkey at 7:41 AM on December 31, 2003

When I was in college, every year I would get a bad cold/flu in the winter and the cough would last until spring. What ended up taking care of it was having my tonsils out.

But I'd try the tea first.
posted by ferociouskitty at 7:49 AM on December 31, 2003

Albuterol. It's an inhaler that clears the airwaves and soothes the coughing. Unfortunately I know exactly how you feel - I was sick with this same exact thing for six weeks back in October. I bet your chest is feeling bruised from all of the coughing, and you can't even lie down because it brings on even stronger, right? I didn't get the Albuterol until I had been sick for at least five weeks. Next time, I won't wait that long.

I don't know how you are going to get this medicine without a prescription, but it was the only thing that gave me any relief. If I were you I would try to find some sort of a free clinic, or as a last resort go to an emergency room and try to explain your financial situation. Taking care of this might be expensive now, but ignoring it could prove to be even more costly. BTW, there are other inhalers available non-prescription, but I would talk to a doctor before taking the plunge with one of those.

God do I sympathize - I really hope you feel better soon.
posted by lilboo at 7:59 AM on December 31, 2003 [1 favorite]

There is no such thing as "going to a doctor is not an option". AskMeFi has limits, and health issues are certainly one of them. Instead of self-medication, self-diagnosis and well-meant tips, consider going to a hospital or at least calling a doctor right now. Happy New Year.
posted by 111 at 8:06 AM on December 31, 2003

I agree with 111. Find a county clinic or a free clinic somewhere, but get to a doctor. Health Insurance or not, if you feel as though you can't take it anymore.... perhaps 50 bucks or so for a doctor visit might help out.
Try to coax them into giving you some samples of medicine. Get a prescription, and opt for the generic to save you some cash.
posted by bradth27 at 8:10 AM on December 31, 2003

I’m at my absolute end here. I cannot cope with this much longer.
If this is not hyperbole, then you either should get to a doctor/ER or write a will.
posted by mischief at 8:19 AM on December 31, 2003

gargling with a little salted water helps me when my throat is closed, or tea with honey...soup can help soothe too, as long as it's bland, like broth...and chewing gum keeps the juices flowing in your mouth (more than cough drops I find).
posted by amberglow at 8:21 AM on December 31, 2003

Well, the only thing I've got going on with this cold/flu thing anymore is the cough. So I'm not going to *die* or anything--I'm just uncomfortable--if I were still feeling the way I did on Saturday when I was first sick, I would go to a doctor. If I had still felt that way on Sunday, I would have found the local urgent care clinic and gone. Believe me. I am not completely stupid. What I meant by absolute end was that it was threatening my sanity, not my life.

At this point, I've recovered to the point where it's just lingering symptoms that are driving me bonkers. I don't get coughing types of colds very often (I'm more a head cold kind of person), so I don't have coping mechanisms for a cough while I wait for my body to heal. I should have been clearer about what I was looking for. Coping mechanisms.

And I promise that if I'm still coughing in a week, I'll find a clinic. I just don't think it's necessary at this point, because I do believe that I am recovering, it's just the getting there that's rough.
posted by eilatan at 8:32 AM on December 31, 2003

I have to second many of the opinions here. You may be left with some asthmatic symptoms from your illness and getting something that will clear your bronchial passages will not only help you feel better, it will help you heal. While something like albuterol is a really good idea, something more basic like an inhaler over the counter would help somewhat. The big danger is that if you don't do something about it, you could be setting yourself up for longer-term complications if you wind up with more serious asthma after this.

Also, don't give up on doctors just b/c you have no insurance. St Clare seems to have some walk-in options for the uninsured and, honestly, you have to ask yourself if spending some cash on a doctor in the short term beats permanent damage to your health in the long run.
posted by jessamyn at 8:44 AM on December 31, 2003

I want to reiterate everyone else's suggestion that you find a doctor that will see you today or that you can talk to on the phone. Dry coughs can be damaging and quite serious if left un or under-treated. There is also some research out there that, in some people, adult-onset asthma can be traced back to a single respitory event that was too-long untreated. In my case, it was a bad cold that turned into pneumonia during finals week in college when I felt I was too "busy" to go to a doctor. Don't be a dumbass like me and end up with a permanent problem.

That said, for a dry, hacking cough, I often actually take a shot or two of alcohol (no more) or a really hot toddy with tea, brandy, and honey. It seemed to help me clear congestion and helped with the coughing symptoms. Or maybe it just made me care about it less....hard to say.
posted by answergrape at 8:58 AM on December 31, 2003

For a temporary solution, try the whole steam and vicks vapor rub dealie (it's on the back of the jar.) And you might consider a humidifier.
posted by DenOfSizer at 9:12 AM on December 31, 2003

wind up with more serious asthma

more serious? he doesn't have asthma! he's coughing, not having problems breathing. do you have asthma? it's nothing like coughing - it's like being unable to breathe.

sheesh. i reckon it all started when he stopped beating his wife.

hot water, in a mug, with lemon juice and honey. and if you don't get to a doctor you might have cancer. or something.

(seriously, asking for medical advice on the net is just asking for trouble. i asked about - you guessed it - asthma once and they almost ordered my coffin before they'd finished (for the record i'm still alive))
posted by andrew cooke at 9:16 AM on December 31, 2003

I'm a she.

posted by eilatan at 9:25 AM on December 31, 2003

a woman? but they go to the doctors all the time!

posted by andrew cooke at 9:28 AM on December 31, 2003

more serious? he doesn't have asthma! he's coughing, not having problems breathing. do you have asthma? it's nothing like coughing - it's like being unable to breathe.

Yes, I have asthma. My asthma started after a long bout with bronchitis that I didn't get treated quickly enough. The first symptoms were hacking coughing at nights and some wheezing when I would overexert myself. Asthma is basically just a name we give to a collection of symptoms that tend to manifest with certain triggers. More classical asthma involves not being able to breathe to the point of requiring an inhaler to stay alive. Milder forms can be triggered by allergies, exertion, stress, or illness and can leave you with wheezing, coughing and/or shortness of breath. There's nothing wrong with being careful about your health, and there's no sense in assuming that your experience with a medical malady is necessarily the same as anyone else's.
posted by jessamyn at 9:51 AM on December 31, 2003

The albuterol wasn't a bad idea. Plenty of doctors prescribe albuterol for short-term use for patients with asthmatic symptoms. It doesn't mean they have asthma, but it does mean that they have twitchy or inflamed lungs for some period of time. Albuterol can cause raised blood pressure, though, which for some folks is a problem.

FYI, wheezing isn't the only asthmatic symptom. Asthmatic symptoms can be anything that result from hypersensitive airways, like after a brutal cough. Chest tightness and dry, hacking coughs can also be asthmatic symptoms. So can chest pains from lung inflammation.
posted by answergrape at 9:59 AM on December 31, 2003

there's no sense in assuming that your experience with a medical malady is necessarily the same as anyone else's.

I think that was the point andrew was trying to make. There's no doubt your intentions were good, but one of the problems with asking for this sort of help on the 'net is that non-professionals will tend to work from the specific to the generic like you did.
posted by yerfatma at 10:08 AM on December 31, 2003

It is difficult to give medical advice over the net, so if you read my opinion, be sure and run it by someone who is a health professional and familiar with your medical history. If indeed a cough is your only problem you may need something stronger than DM (dextramethorphan) to knock it out. If you smoke, stop at least until the cough goes away and continue with the hydration; it is probably helping more than you think. In some states, codiene cough syrup can be bought over the counter (in small quantities and only certain forms with the pharmacist taking down name and address). A better solution would be to get a prescription for Tessalon Perles. These are capsules containing a non-narcotic, very effective cough suppressant. They are also very cheap and have been around forever, so they are not advertised and many physicians have forgotten about them. If you are absolutely unable to get to a physician (and ask around, you may well have a friend or relative who knows an M.D. who will phone in a prescription for you for free--I know because I do it all the time) try asking a pharmacist for advice.
posted by TedW at 10:26 AM on December 31, 2003

FYI, wheezing isn't the only asthmatic symptom.
One symptom(cough) that differentiates bacterial meningitis from viral meningitis.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:27 AM on December 31, 2003

This is the "tea" that I make whenever my throat/chest are feeling dry and hacky:

Steep four or five cloves of garlic, crushed, an equal volume of ginger root, sliced and smashed a little, in water until it smells very strongly and the color deepens. Add some honey and lemon. Drink nice and hot.

The ginger is supposed to be good for coughs, the garlic for colds, and the honey and lemon for your throat and your cough. This also makes me hungry, so if my appetite is waning, it can sometimes prompt me to eat something.
posted by jennyb at 10:32 AM on December 31, 2003

Echinacea suppresses the functioning of the immune system. Take it, and you may feel better superficially, because your body isn't spending as much effort fighting the sickness. Not recommended. (Source: my doctor.)
posted by gimonca at 11:59 AM on December 31, 2003

Echinacea stimulates the immune system, it having characteristics that cause the body to believe that it is under attack, analogous to hayfever and bacterial infection. Take it ahead of getting sick, and your body is supposedly pre-prepared to fight off invaders. (Source: every claim I've ever seen about it.)

That said, the latest studies indicate that it has no effect other than placebo effect.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:23 PM on December 31, 2003

Really, it's worth it to find a clinic if you can.

I have bronchial asthma. Colds/viruses irritate and inflame my lungs, and I have coughed hard enough to burst small blood vessels in my eyes. Attactive. Mentholated cough drops help a lot with the cough and irritation. CVS and RiteAid have a generic version of Halls. They end up being about a penny a piece, so it's worth a try. The sugarless ones are vile. Otherwise, the lemon has the most menthol.

A clinic visit for the correct inhaler helped more, but it took many tries to get the right meds and was expensive.

A pharmacist may be able to help you find the right over-the-counter cough med. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 12:25 PM on December 31, 2003

eilatan, I suffer through the exact same thing, every winter, after a bout of one respiratory illness or another. A week to ten days of the type of tiring, dry, unproductive coughing that you're describing. See if any of this helps:

-- Get off the Robitussin and any other over-the-counter medications you might be taking. They're not controlling your cough, they're just drying out your mucus membranes, making you cough more in this case.

-- If you can get your hands on some codeine cough syrup, that's really the thing that works. Check with pharmacies in your state to see if its available over the counter. I also know its available OTC in Canada. Otherwise, you'll need to see a doctor (or at least speak with one) to get a prescription.

-- If you can't get codeine, or if it knocks you out so you can't function, continue with the hydration, but move away from plain water. Drink real fruit juice, milk (you actually want to produce more mucus, in this case, not less), non-caffinated teas, anything that will give your body something to digest as well as something to absorb. At least 96 ounces per day. Also, eat more fruit. Apples, oranges ... the key is that you let your entire digestive system do what it was designed to do -- absorb moisture.

-- It sounds crazy, but I swear by old-fashioned Vicks Vapor Rub (you know, the stinky menthol stuff mom used to rub on your chest). Rub it liberally on your chest and throat, then put on a tight fitting t-shirt and then something warm over that. Relaxes all those tight chest muscles and lets me get at good nights sleep, which helps tremendously with the stiffness and soreness that coughing can cause.

-- Use moist heat on your chest and upper back. Hotpacks that you put in the microwave, hot water bottles ... you need to relax those muscles and actually get them out of the habit of coughing.

-- Obviously, don't smoke and stay away from people who are smoking.

-- Last, if you're not better seven days after the just-coughing started, see a doctor. Good luck!
posted by anastasiav at 12:32 PM on December 31, 2003

Eilatan, do let us know if you tried any of this stuff, and what you feel worked best for you. Always good to have more information...
posted by answergrape at 12:38 PM on December 31, 2003

Get off the Robitussin and any other over-the-counter medications you might be taking. They're not controlling your cough, they're just drying out your mucus membranes, making you cough more in this case.

Bullshit. Dextromethorphan has the exact same action as codeine; it's just not as potent.

I'd avoid getting over-the-counter advice if I were you.
posted by ptermit at 1:52 PM on December 31, 2003

Hey, I'm just sharing what my MD shared with me. Virtually all OTC cold medications have some type of 'decongestant' or 'mucus reducing' element to them -- not 100%, certainly, but the vast majority of them. If the Robitussin was controlling her cough, then fine, keep taking it, but "debilitating coughing fits every 15 minutes" sure sounds like the cough-suppressant part of the medication isn't working, and the remaining ingredients aren't doing her any good either.
posted by anastasiav at 2:07 PM on December 31, 2003

(with sympathy) I've had pneumonia several times, sometimes with bronchitis leading into it. The only OTC drug that's been recommended and has helped has been those that contain guaifenesin, which is an expectorant - please don't use anything that also contains a cough suppressant as you won't get the same results. Staying well-hydrated is key. In lieu of echinacea, I would suggest the supplement beta glucans 1, 3 for promoting strong immune system function - as a skeptic, even I have been converted to its use, and maintain a course of it every winter now.
posted by vers at 2:40 PM on December 31, 2003

Well, the coughing has definitely calmed down since I posted my question--which I posted when I was really frustrated and annoyed and pissed at the whole thing. I've been drinking lots of non-caffeinated beverages (this cold has been great for breaking my caffeine addiction), and I stopped on my way home from work and got some mentholated cough drops. I loathe mentholated cough drops, but I got them anyhow. They seem to be helping.

A few years ago I had a similar cough and was prescribed guaifenesin with codeine, and it didn't do a goddamned thing for me. The main reason I was prescribed it was so I could get some rest because I wasn't sleeping at all because of the coughing, so I was pretty mad that it didn't have any effect on me at all. Cough syrups just don't work for me. I don't understand it and none of my doctors have ever understood it. And yet, I still try cough syrup every time I get a cough. I'm really hindered in my OTC cold medication choices because I was violently allergic to Sudafed as a child and while no longer allergic, prefer to avoid it as mush as possible.

Thanks for all the suggestions--I'm going to try some Vicks Vaporub tonight and I'll move on from there (I'm starting with the stuff I have at home first, since I don't want to go out again tonight).
posted by eilatan at 3:48 PM on December 31, 2003

Guaifenesin rocks my world. It's the only "cough" syrup I use: I figure my body wants to cough phlegm out for a reason, so I'll assist it the best I can. That means not supressing the cough, and loosening-up the phlegm. Guaifenesin is amazing for that.

If I had a non-productive, uncontrollable, barking cough, I suppose I'd turn to a supressent. I expect a dose of codeine would do it. Ugh.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:11 PM on December 31, 2003

Guaifenesin only ever made me worse. I think expectorant ingredients are worthless.

A lot of coughs are simply postnasal drips. I discovered that decongestants did more for my coughing than cough syrup did, for those types of coughs anyway.
posted by konolia at 4:40 AM on January 1, 2004

I'm a fan of Guaifenesin. The trouble is, it's nearly impossible to get it without a decongestant or a cough suppressant.

I believe there's one variety of Robitussin syrup that is Guaifenesin only.
posted by mmoncur at 2:12 AM on January 2, 2004

Hardly medical I know, but sometimes when I am at deaths door, I drink a bottle of wine. Usually ensures a good nights sleep and a bit of respite from feeling like shiat.
posted by Frasermoo at 6:27 AM on January 2, 2004

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