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Respiratory Therapist/Cough/Chest Congestion

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Question
Hello,

30 y/o male, occasional smoker(5 Cigs a Month if that). 3 weeks ago, I came down with a Repiratory Infection. I was coughing up Green/Yellow sputum,Fever, Body Aches, NO BUENO. After Chest X-ray and flu swab was negative, was put on Augmentin 875 MG for 10 days, Mucinex D and a Abuterol Inhaler. Fast forward to today, The Fever has been gone, green/yellow stuff is gone(Except In the mornings when I wake up, I cough it up along with some Blood traces in it). I still have a cough and it still feels like my chest is rattling. Nose is still running and I notice I sneeze more. Went in for a follow up 2 days ago. They took another chest x-ray which was negative again(Said my lungs where clear, but I feel my chest rattle when I breathe at times. Plus the blood in my sputum scared the crap out of me, but I think it might be due to throat irritation since it dont happen but in the mornings mostly). Was given a Z-pack and sent on my way.

Now to my question. How long do Respiratoy infections last? I had mines for 20 days now. Also, what else can I do so I can start breathing better and not having to cough every 2 seconds? Thank you for all your help

Answer
Hi Scott,

I am terribly sorry to hear that you are feeling so poorly and especially for so long!

"How long do respiratory infections last?"

Well, it is very different for different people but they can last quite long, even weeks and sometimes months depending on your immune system and the type and virulence of your infection. Most do not last  months fortunately, but since it has already been 20 days for you it could be another week or two until you really feel well, hopefully it will not be that long though. Many people claim they feel better fairly quickly with the Z-pack. It sounds like you actually have already cleared the worst of the infection.

The antibiotics that are prescribed are usually broad spectrum rather than based on your particular infectious agent and therefore not only may not work optimally on what is really making you sick but they also tend to damage your friendly flora such as that in your gut that help you to stay healthy under normal circumstances and so you may not heal as fast.

It sounds like you have a pretty nasty infection though with green and yellow sputum but it is a very good sign that it has mostly cleared up. However, all the coughing does tend to cause quite a bit of irritation which could account for small amounts of blood in your sputum and continuous coughing also causes you airway linings to produce more mucus, as a protective mechanism, as do acids from the bacteria infecting your system. You may need a cough suppressant if you are not already taking one. While it is good to cough out mucus, after a while, most coughing is non-productive and drier and is more likely due to irritation than a need to remove sputum. You rattling chest is probably due to partially  sinus drainage, especially at night, and partially as a response from mucus secreting cells in your lower airways in response to irritation. I am always amazed at how horrible some of my patients sound when they have a perfectly clear x-ray!

The problem is the respiratory system is so hospitable to all those nasty bacteria that love a moist, warm, dark environment to grow and reproduce in, sometimes they just do not want to go!

I guess you are not smoking during this time....you probably don't feel like it anyway. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially water and warm liquids (not soft drinks). Eat some probiotics, like yogurt to replace good flora that is being lost. Get a cough suppressant if you do not have one and cough if you need to remove secretions otherwise it will be better to stop unnecessary coughing that is actually working against you getting well. Get plenty of restful sleep and try to reduce stress. It may help you to use a humidifier because the dry air in your already very irritated airways is probably causing you to cough more as well, especially if you are using a heater to stay warm. It would probably also help to flush your sinuses out a couple of times a day with an over-the-counter saline solution as well.

The albuterol is primarily for bronchoconstriction which you may or may not have so it will not help much unless this is occurring; for instance, if you are wheezing, but it can help to prevent this situation too. I do suggest that you try to take very deep, slow, breaths every hour at least 10 times and hold each one about five or so seconds, this may make you cough a little, but it also expands your lungs well, gets plenty of oxygen into your system and helps to remove stale air and helps to break up any secretions forming there.  Also, it would be best not to be around air fresheners or other chemical agents in the air (perfumes, cleaning agents) that may antagonize the situation.

Hopefully, the antibiotics will kick in before long.  I had a similar infection once that took 3 months to resolve, a nightmare, primarily a sinus infection initially but then expanded to my lungs, antibiotics did not help, once I finally  got rid of it I never had it again.

It is all about getting back into balance to give your immune system a chance to recover and do what it is supposed to, sometimes unfortunately it takes a while. If I had a quick fix I would email it to you! Hope you feel better soon.

Respiratory Therapist

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Stephanie Tyrrell

Expertise

Respiratory Therapy is a very diverse field encompassing many specialty areas. I have experience in many of these areas and I am willing to answer any question I feel competent to answer within the scope of my experience in the following areas: neonatal ICU and transport, pulmonary rehabilitation, sleep studies, BiPAP/CPAP therapy, Holter monitoring, EKG, ventilator management, chronic and acute respiratory diseases,(i.e. COPD, asthma, restrictive disease, ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), pneumonia, etc) and therapeutics, arterial blood gases, and others. Please see my profile under Experience for a full listing of areas of experience.

Experience

I have worked in respiratory therapy for over 25 years in all facets of patient care including level 4 neonatal ICU and neonatal transport, Director of Cardiopulmonary, community health fairs and networking, staff therapist, pulmonary rehabilitation, sleep studies and BiPAP/CPAP therapy, Holter monitoring, EKG, cardiac clinics, pre and post cardiac surgery education and patient care, emergency and long-term ventilator management, chronic diseases such as COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis; acute respiratory distress syndrome, emergency room, home and nursing home respiratory care. I also provided temporary staff to area hospitals through an allied health business I owned and managed, while also working as a staff therapist for the business.

Education/Credentials
Certified Respiratory Therapist, Registered Respiratory Therapist, Licensed RT, NRP ((Neonatal Resuscitation Program) certified, BS Biology/Botany, MS Environmental Sciences - Toxicology

Past/Present Clients
Thousands of in-patient and out-patient clients in the hospitals I was/am employed by as well as a number of local hospitals that utilized the services of my allied health business. I currently work as a respiratory therapist at a general hospital and a rehabilitation hospital.

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