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Miserable with unending cough

I'm new to this and feeling pretty miserable right now. I got diagnosed with exercise induced asthma as a teenager,  but it doesn't typically give me much trouble (now in my mid-twenties). 5+ weeks ago, I got a cough that seemed to be a cold. But the cough just wouldn't go away. After about 3 weeks (which included my boss threatening to drag me to the doctor if I didn't go myself), I went to urgent care. But the time I walked there from my office, I could barely breathe (hyperventilating, I think, but I don't remember it well) and they immediately sent me to the ER. I was given a nebulizer, told I had a clear chest xray and probably had bronchitis, then sent home with antibiotics and told to take a cough suppressant.

I had a follow up at the clinic a week later, cough still no better. The doctor decided the problem was likely bronchitis exacerbating asthma. I was about 75% peak flow for my age/height, but didn't have any wheezing. I got a prescription for inhaled steroids and told to use the albuterol when the coughing got bad. 

At this point, it's been another week. I'm constantly tired because I'm not getting a full night's sleep. (I don't cough when I'm laying down, but I wake up in the middle of the night a lot of don't feel rested in the morning.) I've had limited appetite for the past 2-3 weeks so I've lost at least 8 pounds. And the coughing only seems marginally better, even with regular use of the albuterol. 

Inhaled steroids are supposed to take awhile to work, right? Any chance they'll likely stop this cough soon? (It's been 9 days.) Am I likely still dealing with the bronchitis on top of asthma, or am I past the infection now? What if the doctor was wrong about either the bronchitis or the asthma?

This is a rant, but I feel pretty uncertain and isolated with all these and don't know who to talk to with experience. I'm considering setting up another follow up appointment, but I don't know if I just need to wait it out at this point. 

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Comments 8

  • Kathy P

    Hugs and welcome. I'm sorry you are so tired and miserable. Did the antibiotics help at all? Does the cough suppressant help at least temporarily? 

    I know I've had illnesses that flared my asthma and the cough would linger. I had to be diligent about suppressing a dry cough or it just keeps things irritated. Asthma often feels different for me than the typical list of symptoms. I can be coughing all the time without really feeling like my breathing is impaired. 

    Did the doc give instructions about when to come back if things were not better? 

  • Pterosaur

    Antibiotics didn't help, nor do cough suppressants or cough drops seem to do anything. The nebulizer got my peak flow from 75% to 85%, so I guess that's doing something. (I also tried not using the inhaler all day earlier this week, and by the time I got home in the evening I felt like I'd been hit by a bus.)

    When you've had this type of lingering cough, how long did it last? 

    The doctor didn't give me a specific timeline for following up. She said to come back if it didn't get better, and to take the steroids for 3 weeks. 

  • Kathy P

    I would go back again. If I were still coughing that much after several weeks, my doc would have me come in and I'd probably wind up with a chest x-ray. 

    Did the doc give instructions for how often to use the Albuterol? If you use it that often, does it keep the coughing down well enough? Are you using OTC cough suppressant or prescription? The last time I had a non-stop cough, the doc switched me to an Rx one. 

    Do you know what your base peak flow is or are you just going off the chart average?

  • Jen

    Hi @Pterosaur,

    Welcome to AAFA's support forums.  I know those lingering coughs can be really frustrating.  What kind of doctor are you seeing for it?  A pulmonologist or an allergist?  

  • Pterosaur

    I had a chest xray when I was in the ER 2 weeks ago, which came back clear.

    For the albuterol, I was told when I felt shortness of breath or the up hint was particularly bad. I've been using it a couple times per day. It makes the cough a little less intense and makes breathing easier, but the cough isn't anywhere close to gone when I use it. For the cough syrup, it's just otc (dextromethorphan), though I've stopped using it much because it doesn't seem to do anything for me. 

    For peak flow, I'm just going off the charts. I haven't done peak flow before to have a reference point.

    For a doctor, I'm seeing a gp. I'm going through my university health services (no co-pays and I'm on a grad student budget). I could try to get a referral if this isn't resolving, though. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Hugs, and I so understand what you're going through — an unending cough and no money for the doc! 

    Even though your chest x-ray was clear two weeks ago, that doesn't mean it is now. Sometimes a viral infection can be followed with a secondary bacterial infection or pneumonia (viral or bacterial).

    If you're not improving, it's important to let the GP know that the care plan isn't working. For the most part, doctors assume no news is good news. 

    And with your history of asthma and this cough still hanging on despite the care plan, I would ask the GP for a referral to an allergist or a pulmonologist. I know it seems expensive, but in the long run, it will save you money (not to mention agony) to get this under control. 

  • Shea

    Nebulizers work best for me. I use 2 medications in it, 1- budesonide (it is an inhaled steroid and works against the inflammation, which in my case is triggered by allergens, but viruses and bacteria always flare my asthma too), and the other is a albuterol-ipatroprium bromide mix (it opens the airways). The mist from the neb helps too… slight humidity can help a cough, so using a air diffuser/humidifier, and throwing a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil in it or in a steam shower can definitely help. Gargling with warm salt water, and vix vaper rub are also my friends. Good luck, feel better!!!!

  • K8sMom2002

    @Pterosaur, have things eased up any? Is there a possibility that your GP could consult with an allergist or pulmo by phone? Some docs will if they understand money is tight and you can't afford to see a specialist at the moment.