I finally figured out where this cough comes from.
I have spent much of my adult life sitting. I sit for a couple hours each day at this computer at home. I sit for work. I sit to drive to work. I sit for my meals. I probably spend more time sitting than sleeping. But it wasn’t always this way.
I walked to school as a kid, 5 days a week, from kindergarten to high school. I walked most of the time out of school, and when I had a bike, I rode my bike to get to where I wanted to go. I rode my bike for hours then, cruising and coasting wherever I wanted to go.
I worked construction for 10 years of my life. I worked various odd jobs for most of my adult life until around 1999. Then something changed. I began to work in jobs that required me to sit most of the time. I bagged my own lunch so I wouldn’t even walk to a local restaurant for lunch. But I remember that I didn’t really start sitting for a living until 1999.
Around 2002–2006, I can’t remember exactly, I started to develop a persistent cough. I didn’t know where it came from, but I remember where I was living and the onset, and then spent the next decade and a half looking for a cause. But I know that I didn’t have this cough, something that I’m still dealing with now until I started sitting for a living.
This cough seemed to be seasonal, so I thought it might be allergies. It would come and go as it pleased, but it was always there in the morning when I woke. After many visits to the doctor and numerous attempts at change to adjust, early this year, a persistent cough came to me that was even worse than I had ever seen it before.
So I made another visit, and this time, I listened very carefully. I learned that I had laryngopharyngeal reflux, also known as silent reflux. It’s like having heartburn but without the pain. This condition results from a lifestyle that compromises the esophageal sphincter. That’s the hole where food goes from your throat to your stomach. And when that’s compromised, acid from the stomach comes into the throat and burns the throat.
In response to the acid, the throat creates mucus to protect it. But that causes the throat to cough and over time, the coughing and the acid damage the throat to the point where a chronic cough develops. I’m recovering from that.
I’ve learned that I have to give up a few of my favorite things. I must avoid chocolate, mint, and tomatoes. No more spicy food. No caffeine, for me, that’s iced coffee drinks, and I can easily live without that. No fried or fatty food, too, so I have to let the corn and potato chips go. I love Indian food and I will have to let that go, too. And I have to avoid cheese.
I also learned that I must stop eating 3 hours before bed. Sigh.
All of these changes are helping me to lose weight. I’ve had to give up on anything with flour in it, too. I mean, I see the corn chips in the cafe at work, but I associate that with the discomfort I feel after eating them. I know that they would make me cough again. So I’m cutting out a lot of my once favorite foods.
All of that is being replaced with fresh, whole or minimally processed food. Apples are my breakfast and I have been eating them for breakfast for years now. I’ve tried many things for breakfast and apples really fit the bill. They have carbs, they have sugar, and they’re crunchy. So that didn’t need to change.
But I’m eating different snacks like carrots every day now. I’m also eating red, orange and yellow bell peppers raw because they’re sweet. I’m eating bananas. I’m also eating sugar snap peas. And brown rice is my main dish for lunch during the day most days. I find that I’m erring on the side of unprocessed or minimally processed food every day now. I do this not because I want to, but because I know what it costs me when I do eat that stuff.
In just a few weeks, I’ve lost 10 pounds. I feel cleaner and I’m drinking a lot more water. Whenever I have a coughing fit, I get up and walk. That helps work out the air and sorts the food in my stomach. We are made to walk. And when we walk, that action massages the internal organs and increases fluid circulation, like water and blood. Walking helps the stomach digest food.
I’m so tired of coughing. I’m taking prescription Prilosec until I can get a handle on it. Until the cough goes away. It won’t be for the rest of my life, either.
I’m becoming much more aware of when I’m hungry and when I’m not. I’m eating in smaller portions, but more frequently. Carrots and bell peppers are satisfying for now, and I can find other things to eat that won’t make my throat burn. I’m confident that with these changes, my body will find equilibrium with my weight and my diet.
I just want peace in my throat. I want peace at night, and in the morning. I want my family to be able to sleep at night without any interruption from me. I want to get enough sleep, too. It’s early days yet, but my doctor said that it may be up to three before I see real results. I’m already seeing results. I am already feeling better than before. And my sensitivity to food has raised awareness of what I need to eat and what I can live without.
I can’t help but wonder if our sitting work culture does bring on heartburn. A search for the relevant topics shows numerous papers and articles confirming that sitting for a living does increase the chance of heartburn. And that heartburn can lead to a chronic coughing condition, such as I have here.
So I not only adjusted my diet, I have made it a point to go for a walk around the building now and again at work. I take my kids to the park and for a walk when weather permits. I do laps around the house when snow falls. I use the stairs at work. If I start coughing, and I can get away from my desk, I get out and get some air, sun, and movement.
If you have a persistent cough, but no pain in your chest from heartburn, you may have heartburn and not even know it. You may have acid burning your throat and not feel it. If you relate to this article at all, you might want to schedule an appointment to get checked out.