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Louise asked...

My mother is suffering from a cough.

My mother has suffered from a cough for as long as i've been alive (29 years). A persistent cough (by which she can sometimes have 10+ outbreaks a day) which produces a clear, spit-like mucus.

She has been living with the condition for 25+ years but it has worsened over the past 5 years, where occasionally now she will lose breath completely as if her airways are shut. During these attacks she is wheezing and gasping for breath, it is very unsettling to watch and inhalers haven't helped because doctors do not think this is asthma.

The attacks gradually pass and she resumes breathing but I am concerned that one day this will not pass and she will lose consciousness. During the summer 2013 she was referred by a respiratory specialist to a gastroenterologist who diagnosed her with having GERD (stating this as the cause of the cough/breathing difficulties) so she had an operation to reduce the diameter of the oesophagus.

However, now 8 months after the operation, the cough/breathing difficulties and occasional breathless attacks continue. I have told her to get a referral back to the respiratory specialist but it seems to me that they have no idea what is wrong with her. Can you help?

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The answer

Sorry to hear about your mother’s long term breathing problems. It must be distressing to see her going through this. From your description, your mother was diagnosed with GERD (Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease) only last year.  My understanding is that her breathing problems were not related to asthma but to GERD.

It is known that GERD can cause serious breathing problems which cannot always be relieved by using standard asthma treatment, e.g. inhalers. I wonder if your mother would benefit from taking medications to reduce acidity following the surgery related to GERD. 

I would suggest arranging a consultation with the surgeon or the gastroenterologist who looked after her last year; they know the extent of the disease and what they achieved by performing the operation. It is possible that they might request a gastroscopy to check the current situation on the oesophageal track. Based on this they may also recommend a check up with a respiratory specialist, who will be able to check that there are no changes in the lungs or airways and may suggest different medication to alleviate the breathing symptoms.

Answered by Health at Hand nurses.


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