Rania M M Watts, E.I.C., CCIQ Press
If the cough fits! By Spyros Melaris
One of the symptoms of COVID19 is the irrepressible dry cough. I first started experiencing the coughing fits once the virus had taken a hold in my left lung. We are conditioned to cough and expect this action to provide relief, either by satisfying the tickle or itch that instigated it, or by dislodging and ejecting phlegm or some sort of discharge that was accumulating on the chest. With COVID19, there is nothing. Therefore, the natural auto reaction is for the body to cough again. This in turn spurs on a sequence and with each cough – the body is deprived a breath of air.
Just like when your heart stops when you sneeze, it also can stop when you cough. (When you sneeze, the intrathoracic pressure in your body momentarily increases. This will decrease the blood flow back to the heart. The heart compensates for this by changing its regular heartbeat momentarily to adjust. However, the electrical activity of the heart does not stop during the sneeze.)* Coughing, gagging and other acts can have a similar effect on the vagus nerve. (The vagus nerve is the longest and most complex of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that emanate from the brain. It transmits information to or from the surface of the brain to tissues and organs elsewhere in the body. The name “vagus” comes from the Latin term for “wandering.”) * It\’s almost like a cough through your nose. It increases vagal tone, and that stimulation causes your brain to program your heart to slow down. Your heart can slow down, skip a beat, or stop momentarily.
My left lung is infected and as a result I have the constant ’gagging reflex’ which instigates the cough. I have found that it’s not so much a physical thing but more a state of mind. Once I realised this, I was able to control it.
Allow me to explain.
First, I get the desire to cough. It feels like something is blocking my airways. I cough quite hard, and it hurts in the chest. The reflex continues and a second cough follows as if not to waste the first one in an effort to loosen up – whatever has built up on the lung or the windpipe. This is quickly followed by a succession of smaller coughs with no gaps in between. By this time the body has been deprived of oxygen because, the coughing fit only allows for coughing out. Couple this with the severe pressure on the heart with each cough, and the effect of not allowing the heart to beat as it wants to.
I become dizzy and the brain eventually wants to shut down. This has happened several times and I am very lucky that I am quite alert and aware of my surroundings and any dangers. I have fainted a few times, and on each occasion, I have managed to negotiate a clear path to the floor. (Syncope (pronounced “sin ko pea”) is the medical term for fainting or passing out. It is caused by a temporary drop in the amount of blood that flows to the brain. Syncope can happen if you have a sudden drop in blood pressure, a drop in heart rate, or changes in the amount of blood in areas of your body.)* On Thursday night I had another coughing fit, that was honestly like no other. It was stronger than before. Each cough was extremely powerful but, I was trying to space them out to allow me to draw air in between coughs. This only served to make the coughs deeper and more painful. I started to think calm thoughts, and in between coughs I took in as deep a breath as I could manage, held my breath and turned my head up so my windpipe was straight and open.
The coughing stopped. I saw stars and was dizzy as usual, but I learned to break the cycle. The gagging reflex was a lot less while holding a deep breath and with my face turned up. On Thursday night I turned a corner, my coughs are now one or two in a row and I can stop the cycle escalating.
I have been taking Prochlorperazine tablets (Prochlorperazine, also known as compazine, is a piperazine phenothiazine and first-generation anti-psychotic drug that is used for the treatment of severe nausea and vomiting, as well as short-term management of psychotic disorders such as generalized non-psychotic anxiety and schizophrenia.)* to try and minimise the gagging reflex, I also use a wonderful inhalation medicine I found made by Care+ which is just Menthol and Eucalyptus. (https://pharmacyoutlet.co.uk/medicines-treatments/care-plus-menthol-and-eucalyptus-inhalation-100ml)
It also helps greatly to keep the airways clear. I have regular steams and I add some to a bowl in the steam room. It’s not a cure as such, but greatly soothes the congestion. A little goes a long way. I get relief from just inhaling it from the bottle too.
I hope this has been of help to some of you. x