Black Lung Plague. I'm sick of being sick.
February 11, 2008 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Black Lung Plague. I'm sick of being sick. What the *hell* is this crap? Does this sound familiar? And yes, I did go to the doctor. And the ER - plenty of times now.

I know none of you are my doctor. My doctor is (at least to me) a good doctor, and he's been fighting this what-have-you that's in my body. I'm certainly tired of it, that's for sure.

I had Bronchitis back in December for about what seemed like a whole month. I had antibiotics just in case, I've been double fisting Mucinex, and I'm still getting my ass kicked here. I just spent a week out of work because it's hard to breathe, and I have solid coughing fits that are non-productive. I'm plain fucking miserable, and I've had enough of this shit.

I thought I was getting a lot better since December's Bronchitis trip, and for a while I was doing great. I figured I had cleared up. However, about a week and a half ago, I woke up freezing and in major body pain with a high fever. I went to see the doc, he tested me for whatever flu is going around, and I was negative for the test. I went home, slept for about a whole day with a fever of about 102.5 or so on average. This was Saturday.

Sunday, I had my wife take me to the ER. I saw a doc who told me that my fever wasn't terrible, and he gave me a shot of Dexamethasone. I was pretty out of it due to the body pain and fever, so I went home to sleep. The ER doc prescribed the Z-Pac with special instructions to take two a day for three days instead of the normal course. He warned me that this was just a precaution, and that this was probably not going to do anything because it didn't seem bacterial.

A day passed, and I went back to see my doctor. I was having major unproductive coughs and fever. X-rayed and checked for Pneumonia, I was diagnosed with something called Reactive Airway Disease, which he said would go away. I got another shot of Dexamethasone in the other cheek followed by a script for a high dose of Prednisone to clear out my lungs. It's one of those tapering doses (3 pills 1X a day X 3 days, then 2, then 1, etc). I'm also on Cipro 2X a day, my Toprol for blood pressure, Advair (I'm asthmatic), and albuterol when I need it.

My fucking lungs feel like they're made of cellophane when I breathe deeplpy - or attempt to breathe deeply, rather. I can hear them crackling and popping when I inhale sharply. When I exhale, I have major unproductive coughs most of the time followed by big time pain in my chest and arms - if you can imagine feeling like something is squeezing my blood vessels when I hack and choke, it would sum it up pretty well. This sucks. I've been sick for about a month or so, and I've had a shit ton of antibiotics, steroids, and other crap. It hurts my chest muscles and stomach to cough. A lot. I got a steam vaporizer last night with some of that camphor stuff for the water, and it seemed to relieve a little bit of the symptomatic stuff. In general, I am tired when I walk up stairs and do just about anything, and everything makes me hack and choke. When my coughs are productive, it's a wonderfully nasty ass mix of what looks like small-curd cottage cheese that is green, brown, dark colors, and gross.

Is there something I should be asking my doctor to do? I've talked to him about every other day, and he's said "you're a tough one!" I just don't get it. I want to feel better. This is depressing the shit out of me.

Again, none of you are my doctors, I know. Any suggestions, though? Post here - I'll be reading them all.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I had similar symptoms when I had a mold infestation in my air conditioner. I was sick for months until I figured it out.
posted by astruc at 2:02 PM on February 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow, I read this out to Mr. HGG, who has terrible asthma and has had bronchitis and pneumonia, and he said it sounded like you were doing everything you could. His only question was, could it be environmental? Is there a possibility of mold where you are? Is there a lot of fine particulate in the air?

He also said that when he had bronchitis, it took him a very long time to recover, so unfortunately it may be par for the course that you are still feeling quite sick after a long period of time.

Good luck--I hope you feel better soon. I've had Reactive Airway Disease myself and it was scary--I landed in the ER after not being able to breathe. It did go away eventually, though, with heavy doses of inhaler drugs.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:06 PM on February 11, 2008

I went through something similar at the end of the year. I was sick for about 5-6 weeks total, with a horrible cough, that didn't produce anything until about the last week. Regarding the chest pain, apparently if you cough long enough and hard enough, one of your ribs can work its way loose, and become dislocated. It started out as sort of a gradual sore spot and eventually turned into really acute pain over the course of a few days. I had no idea this could happen until it happened to me. It forced me to lay in bed for four days, doped up on codiene and vicodin. I think the laying in bed and doing nothing for a few days straight did more for me than the antibiotics did. (I'm sure being asthmatic only makes things worse.) I feel your pain. I wasn't sick as long and it made me want to pull my hair out.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:06 PM on February 11, 2008

What you're describing sounds like the aftermath of this winter's bronchial virus that's making the rounds. No advice really, just lots of sympathy.

I don't have asthma, but I did just have strep coupled with the nasty cold/bronchial virus that's been going around - and my symptoms sound very similar. So far I'm on week three of the hacking, choking cough, even though I'm no longer sick in any other way. Doctor says to wait it out.

Hope you feel better soon!
posted by chez shoes at 2:12 PM on February 11, 2008

i second mold asthma. i had this for six months. went thru all the bullshit you're going thru until someone finally figured out it was asthma. it might not be mold, but it definitely sounds like your lungs are unhappy with something in your environment. go back to your doc, ask for albuterol or xopenx and see if that helps. if it does he can start you on an asthma regime for a while.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:35 PM on February 11, 2008

It's Chronic Bronchitis, sounds like. I've had this a few winters. You just have to rest it off, it's hard for your body to totally kick it during the winter. I recommend B Vitamins, crackpot as it might sound. They give you energy and boost the immune system.
posted by sweetkid at 2:59 PM on February 11, 2008

Far as I know, asthma doesn't cause fever. Asthma feels like you are breathing through a straw, and your lung capacity is low. Can't blow out a candle unless you are right up close. And asthma doesn't cause multi colored lung butter.

The cellophane feeling in your lungs? Like sort of a rattle? Does it hurt?

Have they actually done an xray to rule out some kind of pneumonia?

Anyway, if your cough is unproductive except for when it is it's thick and gross, I would suggest making sure your environment is properly humid. And lots and lots of water and soup and broth.

Stay off of Sudafed, it dries you out and makes it harder to get the badness out.

And just to be on the safe side, check for mold.
posted by gjc at 3:21 PM on February 11, 2008

It certainly could well be a post-infectious cough type syndrome which happens not uncommonly, particularly in patients with reactive airway disease (asthma/COPD). Unfortunately sometimes the only other thing to do besides what you've already done is wait it out in such a circumstance. Sorry, sucks.

Then again, without more details and test results, it's really hard to say for sure if something else isn't going on. Any of a number of other things could cause these sorts of symptoms including atypical infectious processes such as fungal pneumonias or tuberculosis, and lots of non-infectious problems like reflux or sinus disease, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, or other interstitial lung diseases.

I think you're at a point where maybe seeing a specialist like a pulmonologist might be of some value. That's what I'd personally recommend. See if your doctor thinks maybe it's time for a referral.
posted by drpynchon at 3:23 PM on February 11, 2008

I've been going through pretty much the same thing here. Z-Pac, inhaler. Best thing for me was the cough syrup w/vicodin in it, because it let me sleep. Coughing until you puke isn't much fun. No real diagnosis, but six weeks later, I am crawling out of it. Ask your doc for Cytuss. It works better than the Mucinex.

Can anyone explain what the point is of these 20-minute coughing jags that don't bring up anything? What purpose do they serve?
posted by clarkstonian at 3:30 PM on February 11, 2008

What purpose do they serve?

They make you expel germs into the air so other people can get infected with the disease. Thus they are a good thing -- for the disease. Not so good for you, though, or the people around you.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:38 PM on February 11, 2008

I had chronic bronchitis that ended up as pleuresy and a small hole in my lung in November, and it sucks big time. I'm so sorry! Your chest hurts, you can't stop coughing. I ended up in the hospital where a pulmonary guy finally diagnosed me, so I think the advice to see a specialist is good if you can get in to see one soon. When I had bronchitis as a kid, I remember the shot of B-12 helped with the general malaise, but that's about it. I think steam is good because when I could get out to our jacuzzi, I didn't seem to cough as much. Otherwise, rest and fluids as usual. It really does seem to be bad this year; everyone seems to have had this or the stomach flu around here.
posted by misha at 4:23 PM on February 11, 2008

I was going to ask about mold, too. When I worked in a moldy building I developed a persistent cough (not as bad as yours; mine cleared with steroids) and also had rolling sinus infections. I would seriously wonder/consider whether there was some moldy badness at work or at home. Otherwise, I can say the humidifier has pretty much kept me well this year, what with lubricating the various and sundry membranes in my head, so keep that clean and keep it up. I'm so sorry. This sounds like my worse nightmare.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:36 PM on February 11, 2008

Do you like alliums? It's a plant genus that includes onion, garlic, chives, and all those kind of 'stinky' plants. The stinky chemical, cystein sulfoxide, can help make your internal environment less hospitable to foreign bacteria. The stuff is also exuded through your lungs, which in your case 'may' help some. It's a viral infection this would not help you at all, however.
posted by ZaneJ. at 4:41 PM on February 11, 2008

drpynchon said it pretty well. Pretty hard to say without more details. Definitely get a referral if you need one. Atypical pneumonia and TB were the first things that popped into my head, but without more info that's not much better than a guess. I'm sure you're doctor has considered that too. Good luck.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 4:54 PM on February 11, 2008

I went through something similar beginning last September. I feel like I'm just coming out of it now. I got checked for TB, lymphoma, pneumonia, and a dozen other things and never got a diagnosis, not even after a bronchoscopy and a mediastinectomy.

After I got out of the hospital, I became convinced that my apartment was somehow part of the problem. It was old, it was extremely dusty, and mold was a definite possibility. It may not have made me sick, but I believe it was guilty at least of keeping me sick when I should have been getting better.

In short: nthing everyone who suggested you consider environmental causes.
posted by baho at 5:06 PM on February 11, 2008

Nthing mold or fungal pneumonia--that was the first thing I thought of. My second-hand understanding is that a lung biopsy is sometimes necessary to diagnose fungal pneumonia definitively (maybe not, though, if you've got productive cough gunk at the ready), and anti-fungals have nasty side-effects, so...

Bah. I sympathize with your coughing fits! Had bronchitis for six weeks last spring and the doctor chided me for not coming in sooner because apparently I was at risk for cracking a rib. It took two courses of Zpac, doubled up for the first couple days, to clear it up. It may be that your body just needs more time--if there's an active infection it may take a while for the secretions to be reabsorbed or expelled, and for all the airway irritation to die down (maybe that's basically what RAD is).

Alternative stuff, of the 'might or might not help, but won't hurt you' variety: Lactic Acid Yeast (tablets) to fight fungus, and Marshmallow Root (capsule form or tea) to soothe mucus membranes.
posted by hippugeek at 5:09 PM on February 11, 2008

I don't know what you have, but I had terrible respiratory problems when I was living abroad. What I realized after years was that I needed to get healthier. I am sensitive to pollution, dry air, a few allergies, and am prone to chest infections. My doctor made me move to a cleaner part of the city, get humidifier. That helped. But what I had was a host of problems feeding off each other.

Please keep going to the doctor, but think about how clean your environment is and how good your general health is. I was on puffer, taking medications, and felt like crap. I needed to get in better shape, keep my house clean, and take off weight. I am no longer on medications, and feel younger than I did ten years ago. I work in a septic environment, and live in a dirty city, but seem to be doing well.

IANAD (well, I'm a doctor, not a medical one). Just think about your health in general. I'm not saying you're a slob. I'm just suggesting that general good health is under-appreciated, and a holistic approach may serve you well in the long run.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:54 PM on February 11, 2008

I can totally sympathize, as I'm in a very similar situation atm. I would recommend a good humidifier, as it's really helped me be able to sleep without coughing so much. I love my new ultrasonic humidifier - although it was expensive, it was totally worth it.
posted by gemmy at 7:59 PM on February 11, 2008

I went through almost exactly the same thing for about 12 weeks earlier this fall/winter.

Are you seeing a pulmonologist or just a regular GP? What is the duration of the prednisone that you're taking? I was on high dosage medrol (32mg/day for 3 or 4 weeks before tapering down) for the better part of two months before the inflammation in my lungs finally came down - Did 4 or 5 rounds, IIRC. Also did 3 rounds of antibiotics. Additionally, I was doing Asmanex inhalations (3 puffs twice daily) AND taking Singulair AND using my Xopenex inhaler. Tussalon perls (they're these tiny clear pills) helped a bit with the coughing spasms, and when all else failed, I finally got a script for straight codeine to stop the coughing because it just, well, hurt so fucking much. That, and I was literally making a scene wherever I went. It also didn't help that I was peeing every time I went into a coughing fit. Truly, embarrassing when you to be driving someplace...

Seriously, I was a walking drugstore. I looked at my FSA printout from my pharmacy and almost had a coronary when I looked at how much I shelled out on meds last year, but I figured it was cheaper than what I'd have spent if I was in the hospital (which would've been the next step).

If you don't have a pulmonologist on board, I think that should absolutely be your next step. As far as RAD (reactive airway disease), have you ever had spirometry testing to verify whether you really do have asthma? You could *technically* have both RAD and asthma, but again, that's a pulm's determination to make.

Oh, and IANAD, etc... Feel better!
posted by dancinglamb at 8:24 PM on February 11, 2008

I had many of your same symptoms once, and tests determined that I had Atypical Legionella. I've had pneumonia before, but this illness was somewhat different. After my doctor found out I'd recently spent the weekend at a hotel (I'd been at a convention) he included the Legionnaire's test among the others he ran.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:35 PM on February 11, 2008

Another doctor. Try to find a good one this time.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:46 PM on February 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've had bronchitis so bad that my doc has prescribed me an albuterol inhaler and it really helped alleviate symptoms of lungy crap. Caffeine helps open up your lungs, so hot coffee in the mornings will also help with symptoms.

I think you should investigate mold, perhaps buying a home mold testing kit to see what you're dealing with.
posted by frecklefaerie at 7:55 AM on February 12, 2008

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