How I Beat Bronchitis as a Quad

Over 40 years of living with spinal cord injury I had learned to not live in fear of respiratory infections. Instead, I had educated myself about how spinal cord injuries affect the respiratory system and this empowered me to act quickly.

Each person may experience symptoms differently. In my situation, I knew the sooner I got to my Primary Care Physician, the better my long term outcome would be. Once I was at my physician appointment, a chest x-ray was ordered. I was very relieved when the results showed my lungs were clear. I had caught this early and the respiratory infection was contained to the bronchial cavity.

A prescription was given for a bronchodilator rescue inhaler. This would allow my 'quad cough' to be more effective. Beyond the inhaler, I was encouraged to sit up as much as I could, drink plenty of water (to loosen mucus) and to cough as often as possible. Sounds fairly easy? Not the case when your spinal cord injury has diminished the muscles in the diaphragm that are essential in producing an effective cough. Remember to talk with your doctor, but here are a few things that I do to help me overcome this:

  • Assisted cough from a care provider.
  • Humidifier in my bedroom helped to loosen mucus
  • Pillows (lots of pillows) to elevate my head and chest.

What is an assisted quad cough? For me, once I inhale for my cough, my assistant places both their hands on my abdomen. During my exhale (or cough) my helper exerts gentle upward and inward pressure with both hands on my abdomen. This increased intra-abdominal pressure produces a more forceful cough. This additional help has been critical in my success with overcoming upper respiratory problems.  Again talk with your doctor on what may be best for you and your situation.

Although very simple, a humidifier also played a key role to my recovery. During the winter months, the heater dries out the room air. Humidity acts as a natural moisturizing agent that can relieve dryness and help loosen internal mucus. I have learned that unclean humidifiers can cause bacterial growth that can promote colds. It is important to understand that steam vaporizers can get dirty quickly, but they’re also among the easiest to clean. Rinse out all the used water between uses. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, clean the unit regularly to prevent bacterial growth. 

Pillows were my 'go to' to keep my head and chest elevated during my battle with bronchitis. Lying flat seemed to increase the fluid in my upper respiratory cavity. Sitting elevated also helped me produce a stronger cough. 

I indeed felt like I was in a 'battle' after all the coughing and expelling 'the yuck' from my chest. I was fortunate to have a friend that is a licensed respiratory therapist. She brought over a respiratory exerciser called The Flutter. This tool is used to potentially increase lung capacity and may promote deeper breathing. 

After my two week spell of bronchitis was over, I felt like I had been in a boxing match. Sore ribs, stiff neck, and general body fatigue were post bronchial symptoms. After a deep muscle massage, I felt better. 

Any upper respiratory problem should be addressed quickly. The sooner an issue is addressed the sooner recovery can begin. 

Keep pushing on,


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