Keep Coughing! Maintaining respiratory health with neuromuscular disorders


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cough assistHaving a nagging cough can be really frustrating. But did you know your ability to produce a strong cough is actually a blessing in disguise? The act of coughing is something many of us take for granted, and is even seen as a nuisance. But if you have a neuromuscular disorder, coughing can be one of the most important things you can do to improve the quality of your life and slow down the progress of breathing problems, infections and weakness.

In these situations, “keep coughing” sounds like a simple fix, but unfortunately, it isn’t. Why? Because as disease progresses and muscles weaken, so does the ability to forcefully cough. And with a weakening cough comes a host of other problems, from reduced lung capacity to increased risk of infection.

“A non-effective cough will lead to a build up of mucous and foreign matter in the lungs,” says Joe Foote, registered respiratory therapist.  “And then lung performance decreases because less air gets in and less gas exchange takes place.”

Foote, who was one of the keynote speakers at our  Empowerment and Action conference  last year, is the owner of Quality Respiratory Care in Fredericton, NB, a company that provides devices to help improve lung capacity, including the ability to cough.

There are four key areas to consider with neuromuscular weakness and breathing problems, according to Foote:

  • Maintaining an effective cough
  • Keeping airways and airsacs open
  • Moving enough air in and out of your lungs
  • Minimizing risk of lung infection

In order to address the four points above, you first need to familiarize yourself with the therapies and choices that are available to you as a patient/client and to appreciate the importance of early intervention.

Foote stressed that early respiratory monitoring is extremely important – and here’s why: “When you first begin to notice respiratory symptoms, you have likely already lost as much as 50 percent of your breathing!”

Therefore, it is crucial to:

  • get early testing on your lungs (before you notice breathing problem!)
  • set up regular testing intervals (e.g. every six months)
  • get expert advice on when to start certain therapies

Have you already noticed symptoms? If so, there are several things you can do in the early onset of a weakened cough:

  • practice self-assisted coughing
  • have a caregiver assist you with your coughing
  • employ “breath stacking” using a Lung Volume Recruitment (LVR) device
  •  or – in more advanced cases – use a mechanical device such as Cough AssistTM.

More information and diagrams detailing all of these options can be found on pages 10-16 of our comprehensive .

Foote concluded that it’s key to start early to develop a respiratory plan with your health team that is right for you. Communicate your wishes clearly, explore equipment options available and choose what works for you now – and what will also meet your needs in the future.


In addition to the downloadable guide listed above please also see the respiratory care stories posted in the blog on our website.

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