I attempt to take a deep breath, but tightness squeezes my chest. Pain follows, as if someone is crushing not only my lungs but my ribs, too.
I woke up the Friday before Memorial Day to this overwhelming yet familiar scenario. Because of pulmonary hypertension (PH), I also battle chronic bronchitis. Sadly, this exacerbation did not fade away like I’d hoped it would. After doing nebulizer treatments several times within two days, I gave in and called my medical team. They usually order a Z-pack, nebulizer treatments, and, at times, low doses of steroids. Often they add a steroid injection.
Steroids: a necessary evil. Life while taking them is a whole other column.
My doctors wanted to rule out COVID-19, so I visited a local testing center for a nasal swab. It was negative for COVID-19, thankfully, but positive for the flu. The treatment did not change course. Today, I am grateful that I am almost back to myself.
Those with PH and other lung diseases are at a higher risk of developing bronchitis. Too often, this can develop into pneumonia if it is not caught early. For this reason, my medical team usually has a Z-pack on file for me to start as soon as bronchitis symptoms start, but by the time of my nasal swab, I had already gone through that backup supply.
What are some bronchitis symptoms?
For me, bronchitis symptoms include a cough that produces phlegm or mucus — sometimes blood-tinged. Generalized fatigue, or increased fatigue in my case, is typical. Fever and body aches or malaise are also symptoms to look for. I notice an increase in my shortness of breath even at times of rest. You can see how these are similar to COVID-19 symptoms.
These symptoms — plus chest tightness and discomfort — are also PH symptoms. Thus, it is tough to distinguish between the two. I know my body is experiencing added stress when the grip on my lungs and ribs is tightened. I then notify my PH medical team using my hoarse, raspy voice. (My husband enjoys reminding me to “rest my voice,” ha.)
Tips for dealing with bronchitis
When bronchitis strikes my body, I find that I need extra rest. Some ask, “Don’t you rest enough as it is?” Yes, I do. But I also know how to listen to my body for signals that it is fighting off more than “just my usual” PH symptoms. Hydration is essential, too. Because I have a poor appetite most of the time, I work harder to stay hydrated. Adequate nutrition also helps. Smoothies and juices are my “go-to” when this happens. Ginger ale or 7 Up helps me, too. Soups and crackers are helpful, but be mindful of the sodium content in the soups. Keeping within dietary limits is challenging during these times.
Zinc lozenges and a boost of Vitamin C are another way I try to maintain the vitamins and minerals that help with healing. Plain Mucinex helps with the mucus. Never buy Mucinex-D as it has a decongestant. Those of us with PH should stay away from those. Always check with your PH medical team before using any over-the-counter medications or supplements.
The most important note to remember is starting treatment early if you think you have bronchitis. Pneumonia can become life-threatening to those of us with PH. Usually, I develop bronchitis three to four times per year. Bronchitis can exacerbate my PH symptoms, so catching it early is critical for those of us with PH. And yes, when bronchitis resolves, I do still have PH — every day!
Do you battle chronic bronchitis? How do you distinguish it from your usual PH symptoms? Share in the comments below.
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.
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