Stubborn, debilitating cough - have bronchiectasis

I'm a 69-year-old woman, diagnosed with "mild bronchiectasis" about 18 months ago. Three and a half weeks ago, I had my final lung function test, which was above normal, and was discharged by my consultant. Ironically, the very next day I became ill and rapidly developed a bad cough. My GP told me to start doxycycline right away., which I did. By the time I finished the course I was no better, so he gave me another week of doxy and a week's worth of carbocisteine. I was starting to feel much better, and the cough was calming, but two or three days after finishing the meds, the cough came back with a vengeance and is now worse than ever. Two days ago I went back to the GP, who switched me to Clarithromycin and gave me another supply of carbocisteine, but seemed stumped by what to do if these didn't help. I'm coughing more and harder than ever - my back muscles are very sore, my pelvic floor is useless, and some of the coughing spells are so bad that I almost pass out, or am almost sick. I'm going to check in with the GP again, because I am at my wit's end and can't go on like this. The cough is mainly dry and hacking, but I do get rumbles of mucus occasionally and bring up very small amounts. Can anyone suggest anything that might help, that I can ask my GP for? I no longer feel ill, and don't have a fever as I did the first week - I'm just completely exhausted from coughing so much. Thanks in advance for any advice!

37 Replies

  • Oh dear Ruby, what a rotten time you are having. I have bronchiectasis and have experienced everything you are describing - to the point of being sick many times. It sounds as if your GP is doing everything they can to help; you need to keep going back if you are not getting better. I have been unwell since mid-November going round and round the meds. The only things I can offer are 1) don't fight it just let go and do as little as possible 2) inhaling steam (with or without any addition) using very slow pursed lip breathing is calming and soothing and cannot interfere with your meds. Let us know how you get on - will be thinking of you. I am sure others will be along to offer their ideas to help you.

  • Thanks so much, Pentreath. I'm so sorry you've been ill for so long! Thanks for the tip about the slow pursed-lip breathing. I tried a steam inhalation with a bit of menthol earlier, and it was soothing for a bit - but then made me cough more. Will try the breathing technique and see if it helps.

  • You're welcome Ruby - sorry, I should have said welcome to the forum too. I hope you keep in touch and let us know how you are getting on. I find the information and jokes on the forum help to keep me going.

  • 👍 thank you! I will!

  • Hi Ruby, welcome to the Community. The standard treatment for Bronchiectasis is two weeks of 500 mg Doxycycline. If you are able to produce a sputum sample then your GP should get this to Pathology for an exact test. If like me your Bronchiectasis doesn't produce any sputum and the infection is still present after two weeks then the antibiotics should be changed to Co Amoxicillin.

    Regards Rib

  • Thanks, Rib. Very little sputum. I'll try to get something tomorrow morning to take to the doc.

  • I think he couldn't prescribe co-amoxicillin because of an interaction with another medication, hence the Clarithromycin.

  • Hi ruby, there is a rotten virus going round and it sounds like you've got it, my husband who hasn't got any lung problems at all has had the dry hacking cough which is sometimes productive for about 5 weeks and it's only just beginning to calm down. Lemon, honey, grated ginger, and sometimes a dash of a good brandy helps, having a 'hot curry' helps, stay out of the cold if you can, the cold really sets my husband off, and what's already been advised sounds good, take good care of you xx

  • Thanks Medow - sorry your husband has been coughing for so long - it feels like I'm heading the same way. I did do the lemon, honey & fresh ginger today - very soothing. Thanks so much for your advice, and I hope your husband gets some relief soon (and you get some respite - my poor, long-suffering husband is finding the noise of my coughing really hard to live with).

  • Hi Ruby, debilitating and stubborn are adjectives much used by those of us who have Bronchiectasis. I've also been ill since mid-November and a hacking cough is one of my symptoms. My cough is productive and I am completely exhausted from coughing up sputum. I agree with the others that there seem to be some particularly evil viruses around this year and perhaps we're all suffering from this in addition to our bronchiectasis. I hope you feel better soon - hope we all feel better soon. Welcome to the forum !

  • Thanks so much - really hope you feel better soon!

  • Hi Rubyron feels like I'm reading about myself :-) Although not on AB's at the moment and am quite well my coughing is just the same. Had my 3 monthly check up with consultant on Monday and nothing to change, but he admits he doesn't know what to do about my cough, one thing I could suggest is an Anti-reflux med, I take lansoprazole permanently and have tried Domperidone, these do work for some people, but unfortunately I have just got used to the fact that cough is part and parcel of bronchiectasis, and I just try and manage the bouts of coughing the best I can. And rest during the day when I find my cough lesser than on a night time. No respect for reasonable hours these things have they? :-)

    Hope you get some relief, take care jan x

  • Thanks, Jan. I take esomeprazole- good suggestion. Hope your cough subsides a bit. It's so exhausting!

  • Rubyron,, At the moment not posting feeling too poorly. Am in bed but, apologise if I missed a post suggesting the magic thing you do for Bronch. Physiotherapy. I coughed 24/7 for two years. The answer was to see a physio to be taught to huff and puff to bring the mucous up. There are gadgets to help if you have not got the energy to do it yourself. My right lung affected lie on side with my damaged lung on top deep breaths and sort of huff, you will cough and bring up so much but you need to be taught by a physiotherapist. I have Seretide inhaler and Arithromycin (spelling wrong) Anti-biotics. Everybody is different. There is hope I am better than I was 5 years ago but once the eternal coughing stops you will have a little more energy, but life is a battle to avoid lung infs. I take the Carbo (MUscodyne) you mention to thin mucous. It works for me but not everybody. Take courage if I am better now in 2016 than I was when started in 2008 it can be the same for you. My GP is so surprised by my CT scan results as said getting older would have thought the opposite.Kaye

  • Kathiesue, thanks so much, and sorry you're so poorly. Hope you keep getting better - great news about your scan! I have been taught the huffing technique but can't even do that at the moment because taking the deep breaths sets off a coughing fit. Will try it lying down (left lung affected in my case). Thank you.

  • Ps Read some of the posts. Others mentioning bugs going around Apparently bug I have is flu that has escaped the flu jab, meaning I am having to work hard get everything up so does not get infected. K

  • Can't give you any help I'm afraid I've had it about 6 weeks and finally gave in and saw doc as I had phoned in sick at work and was self diagnosing, sinusitis and hacking cough and it has now re booted my asthma which had been dormant for over a year, on 5 day course of amoxicillin, on day 3 and not seeing any improvement. I have tried honey & lemon, shop bought hot lemon drink and the cough medicine recommended by a bull and still not leaving me. At the moment my head feels like it's going to explode, I suppose I just have to grin and bear it until it decides to visit someone else.

  • Hope it leaves soon!

  • I was given carbocisteine (sp) when I was first diagnosed to get the sputum up. I had nothing to cough up. But it made me cough and cough and cough. I stopped taking it after speaking to my GP and then consultant. I do hope you get some respite from it. I know hw you feel.

    Marie x

  • Thanks, Marie - interesting. I'm having the same experience - I feel like there's nothing to cough up 99% of the time. Maybe I'll stop the carbocisteine for a couple of days and see if it makes a difference. xx

  • i have had a dry tickly cough for around 3 weeks now. Worst at night. I haven't done anything about as I am not wheezing anymore than I usually do and I haven't anything to cough up. Its interesting that something similar is doing the rounds.

  • Hi everyone I've been so interested in everyone's posts. Like others here I can't take carbocisteine it makes me worse. When I have an infection and cough the only thing that seems to help is Benylin chesty cough syrup. I know the medical profession doesn't believe it is of any use but how do they know unless they suffer as we do. I hope this may help someone else.

  • I am so sorry that you have such a bad cough, it is exhausting. My husband has found that Bronchostop pastilles have really helped with this cough and apparently at night he has been lodging them at the roof of his mouth and they seem to help. Hope you start to feel better soon xxx

  • Hi Rubyron

    Have you tried Vicks vapour rub on the soles of your feet? Yes it sounds bizarre but it does work for many people so they get a nights sleep. Before you go to bed, rub a fair bit of vapour rub on the bottom of your feet, put on some cosy socks and hopefully sleep. I did not believe this when I heard it, but it certainly worked for me. I have heard some people use it day time as well but I haven't tried that. I believe you must keep your feet warm under the covers for this to work.

    Do hope it helps and you will feel better soon.

  • Hi evermore - thanks! Yes, I have done the Vicks thing for the last two nights. The first time, it worked like a charm - slept through with no coughing! Last night, not so much - woke up several times with coughing fits. But I'm going to keep doing it - there's something comforting about it.

  • Yes I would keep doing it, even if it helps you get some sleep, that's better than none. We have similar histories, I was diagnosed with bronchiectasis at 69 years, now 73. I have very little mucous as well except when I have an infection. The last time I had a real cough problem like yours the cough wasn't relieved until I came out with a full blown infection and was then coughing up loads of gunk. I hope you can get a result from a sputum test, maybe you need a different anti biotic. One other thing, are you having long enough courses, you should have at least 10 days?

  • Thanks evermore -- our situations do sound similar, except I never produce very much mucus, even when I have an infection. I had 14 days of doxycycline, and am now on 7 days of clarithromycin. Coughing a tiny bit less today, I think. Fingers crossed. I have booked a call with one of the BLF nurses to see if they have any advice.

  • I have Asthma/Bronc/COPD and they have great fun bouncing around in my lungs trying to get the upper hand. If you are coughing more at night use plenty of pillows or buy a wedge to prop yourself up, I've got a whizzy bed now so I can adjust the angle I sleep at as a lot of bedding can annoy the asthma. I use Vick on the soles of my feet and just a smidge under my nose. Heavens to Betsy I'd even try a poultice of tripe and mash if I thought it would help. I try to drink hot/warm drinks as cold drinks don't seem to relieve the coughing.

    I can't suggest anything medically that could help as most of us have different side effects or medications.

    You may have an infection deep down in the bottom of one or two of your lungs which it appears Bronc. likes to sit and stew away.

    I have sputum/mucus tests once a month now as my lungs just love bacteria. So I collect a sputum tub and paperwork from the doctors, then first thing the next convenient morning collect a sample and then on the get it to my doctors before the samples are sent to the hospital. It needs to be 'fresh' apparently. You could try a bowl of hot water and a towel to encourage the gunk to loosen up.

    I hope you start to feel better soon.


  • Thanks, Sue. Yes, I'd try anything -- including tripe and mash LOL! -- if I thought it would help. x

  • Dear Ruby, you poor thing. I know how utterly exhausting coughing can be and frightening too.

    I do hope I'm not saying something that has already been mentioned before but you say you were fairly recently diagnosed with Bronchiectasis; were you shown how to clear your lungs of the additional phlegm that unfortunately, we all produce every day? I know you said yours was more of a dry cough but you did mention you were bringing up some stuff. If this isn't cleared out, I think it would be making you cough.

    There is a really relentless dry cough going around at the moment that seems to take a while to go but it does eventually 😊

    I think you're right to return to your GP, as he has 'a duty of care' to you, perhaps he might refer to back to your consultant . . . ?

    The old fashioned method of inhaling over a bowl of steaming hot water with a towel over your head could work in the short term, at least.

    Try to keep calm, easier said than done I know. If possible, remember to breathe through your abdomen using those muscles instead, leaving your upper respiratory muscles to relax.

    Best wishes and I'm sure all will be well again soon for you 😊

  • Hi Covenham, thanks for your words of support. I only discovered this group yesterday, and am already finding it so helpful -- just knowing I'm not completely on my own with this. Yes, I have seen a respiratory physio who taught me the "huffing" technique. I don't do it regularly -- I seem to have nothing to bring up, and usually it just makes me cough. Finding it impossible to do now, as deep breathing just makes me cough more! Thanks for the reminder about breathing through the abdomen -- I think that's important. I do yoga (when I'm well!) -- yoga breathing will probably help! Thanks again.

  • Hi Rubyron, I too suffered from a terrible cough when I was first diagnosed with Bronchiectasis. It really is the worst thing in the world, it makes you feel worse than an infection. I was sent to one of these classes where they teach you how to bring up the phlegm, it was interesting to note that a non-productive cough should be avoided. I had been coughing for months without phlegm by this stage. I asked how I was to stop the cough and the teacher told me by drinking more water, sucking cough sweets or anything else I found helped. She also pointed out that coughing with Bronchiectasis or copd could become a really bad habit and to try and void non- productive coughing at all times. I thought at the time this sounded a little silly, we all drink water and suck cough sweets with coughs, don't we, but apparently not enough water. I tried it when I got home and gradually I realised I was not coughing as much. At the next consultation I mentioned it to my Consultant and he was really pleased I had adopted this habit. So give it a try. I know at first it will be difficult but give it a go. Take care and I hope you reduce your coughing soon. Maximonkey

  • Thanks, Maximonkey. My cough is almost always nonproductive - and so exhausting. I'm drinking more water, but maybe still not enough. Thanks for the tip!

  • Hi Rubyron, hope you stop coughing soon, or at least don't cough so much. Take care. Maximonkey

  • Hi Maximonkey, Your comment about drinking more water really caught my attention. I am a coffee drinker and drink very little water even though I keep telling myself i should. The worse part about my bronchiectasis is the dry cough that comes about from anything - cold air, hot air, smoke, scent, talking, bending (I work in a primary school). A coughing bout leaves me feeling like I've done a full day's work and then my head and eyes feel fluey. Not to mention the embarassment that comes with dissolving into a blithering mess around others. I'll make a big effort with drinking water and post back. Regards j

  • Thank you really helpful to hear about non productive coughing theory. As l thought coughing was encouraged to clear lungs of mucus however as much as l try to cough to produce mucus there isn't any, which is draining in itself! Therefore l will try your advise and let the body do it's job naturally and stop worrying about the coughing trying to produce mucus which isn't there 😊

  • Hi all, just wanted to say thanks to everyone for their support. I spoke to one of the fantastic BLF nurses today, who assured me the cough will go - but it might take up to 8 weeks! 🙁 She also said it's important to drink 2-3 litres of water a day - which Maximonkey also mentioned. So I'm making sure to keep that up. She also said it sounds as if this is a post-infective cough, not an active infection, (which sounds right to me, since my other symptoms (fever, aches, etc) have gone. Overall, very reassuring - not much I can do about the cough, but knowing it will go eventually is helpful. I'd highly recommend talking to one of the nurses - the one I spoke to was very patient and knowledgeable- so helpful.

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