Why unconventional symptom relief has helped me

Placebo or not, these treatments have given me a lift when I needed one

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by Anna Jeter |

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This column describes the author’s own experiences with some prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Not everyone will have the same response to treatment. Consult your doctor before starting or stopping a therapy.

When I was in college, I always had a Ricola cough drop on hand. They littered my life. Their yellow wrappers could be found on my nightstand, in my pockets, and deep in the corners of my backpack and purses. At some point during my freshman year, I began to believe that the peppermint flavoring helped to open up my lungs. Breathing in while sucking on the menthol-laced drops affected me like Vicks VapoRub.

That was certainly a placebo effect, for the most part. I can’t imagine there was much true bronchodilation happening, or any significant improvement of lung function. Still, I’d pop one in my mouth several times a day while walking across campus to try to lessen my shortness of breath. Being so sick, the illusion that it was doing something was welcome.

Throughout my time living with pulmonary hypertension (PH) and now as the recipient of a transplanted heart and lungs, I’ve always been eager to find those little things that provide hope — small actions that, on a hard day, help to perk me up, even just a little, whether or not true benefits are taking place.

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What’s worked for me

One simple thing I rely on most days is a warm cup of coffee, which really does have a tangible impact: Caffeine is a bronchodilator, and with one cup in the morning and one in the afternoon, I often find that my lungs open up just a little and I’m able to cough up more of my secretions.

On days when I’m dealing with migraines, which have been common since my transplants, I benefit from an ice pack on the base of my neck. It never solves the problem completely, but it can usually take the edge off to help me rest through the worst of it. I’m always grateful when I can rely on this treatment instead of a migraine medication, given that the pharmaceutical route can sometimes have side effects.

An unconventional but undeniably successful intervention I relied on was mupirocin ointment, often known in the U.S. by its brand name, Bactroban. It was a help when my life with PH involved a trifecta of terrors that could bring on bloody noses: vasodilation, oxygen use, and blood thinners. These wreaked havoc on my nasal passages and led to many traumatic bloody noses, which had to be painfully packed for days at a time.

A friend with PH who had similar issues recommended mupirocin to me, even though it’s actually used to treat skin infections. Knowing that but curious about the suggestion, I brought it up with my ear, nose, and throat specialist. Since we had few other solutions to explore, he was willing to let me try it. In the end, this ointment made a miraculous difference in my nasal issues.

Living with so many health issues and being on countless treatments that can cause side effects, I’ll always look for creative alternatives for easing my day-to-day symptoms. I know that some options are more effective than others, but sometimes just the act of trying something new, even if it seems absurd, can help me feel a bit more control over my circumstances. And with enough exploration, some truly healing solutions may be discovered.

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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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