The characteristic symptoms of COPD include a chronic and progressive cough and sputum production that can be variable from day to day; it may start off intermittently but towards the end will be frequent throughout the day.
The cough itself is an important defence mechanism that helps to clear foreign bodies and excess mucus from the lungs to allow better breathing. However a chronic cough has been found to be associated with detrimental psychological and physical effects on the patient’s life.
Depression, muscle strain and fatigue, sleep deprivation, incontinence and vomiting are all directly associated with coughing. Other related symptoms are rib fractures, fatigue, embarrassment, unconsciousness, difficult conversations on the phone, hoarse sound, unable to stand close to the their relatives due to their cough, and an inability to work in school or elsewhere.
In this new study it has been shown that a lower cough-specific quality of life is associated with a lessened ability to carry out daily activities due to its negative effect on fatigue and lower abdominal muscle endurance, and higher depression levels are also usually observed in patients with COPD.
When coughing the contraction of abdominal muscles is required. However with a chronic cough this can lead to a decline in the endurance of these muscles due to repeated overuse and resulting in them working ineffectively and not being able to help aid the cough or mucus clearance.
In a study of COPD patients with chronic coughs 33% were identified as anxious while 16% experienced depression and approximately 48% of all coughers had moderate or high trait anxiety. Also in general patients were at a higher risk of suffering from phobic anxiety, obsessional tendencies and depression showing that this group of individuals suffered from an emotional and psychological impact on their lives from their chronic cough.
53% of the group attended a speciality centre to help treat their chronic cough and depressive symptoms and there was a statistical improvement in both cough severity and depression scores after three months. This reinforces the fact that quality of life and chronic cough are linked but also that there is treatment to help improve both.
If cough is an important part of COPD and contributes to deterioration in quality of life, the symptom should be controlled and see your doctor who can help to ease your cough which in turn will hopefully improve your quality of life whether physically, psychologically or both.
Ensuring that you follow your doctor’s advice regarding medications and oxygen therapy regime, exercising and eating correctly will help to ensure that you are easing the COPD symptoms as much as possible and therefore also the cough. If you find you are coughing more and gasping for breath maybe your medical oxygen requirements need altering; whether it be an increased flow rate or different machinery to fit your lifestyle. Ask your doctor straight away as anything that you can do to ease the coughing and breathlessness will not only instantly improve your medical condition but will indirectly improve your general quality of life.