A woman holding her throat with tape over her mouth

"Poor Unfortunate Soul"

Did you know that you can break a rib from coughing too hard? I’m sure many of you do. I’m also sure that some of you have even experienced it! While most rib fractures are caused by trauma, repeated, forceful coughing can cause them as well. I broke a rib from coughing a few years ago, and it was quite painful, but that is not the story I am here to tell.

My worst winter with asthma

It was the winter of 2015. I had gotten sick just before Thanksgiving the previous year. It seemed like a never-ending battle to get my asthma back under control. What started as a cold, turned into an asthma exacerbation that went on for months. I was under an inordinate amount of stress at the time, and my body just could not seem to recover.

I remember coughing all of the time. My lungs were so congested and tight. I was working so hard to breathe and clear secretions from my lungs. I remember that I was sitting on the couch when my rib fractured. I was in the middle of a coughing fit and suddenly there was a sharp pain on my left side, about where my elbow hit my ribcage. It was a piercing pain that intensified every time I took a deep breath and every time I coughed.

How I lost my voice

Over the next few weeks, my voice became very hoarse, to the point that it was pretty much impossible to speak. This was particularly unfortunate because at the time I worked a desk job and answered phones all day. I muddled through for a couple of weeks, trying to minimize my talking as much as possible in hopes that my voice would return, but it only got worse.

At that point, my pulmonologist referred me to an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor (ENT) who specialized in voice problems. The doctor suspected I might have a callus on my vocal cords from so much coughing. She decided to do a laryngoscopy, where she used a tiny camera to look at my vocal cords. But she did not find the nodules she was expecting to see.

Instead, she saw that one of my vocal cords had hemorrhaged. A blood vessel in one of my vocal cords had ruptured, causing a bruise of sorts to form on my left vocal cord. A broken rib? Sure. A hoarse voice? Also reasonable. A hemorrhaged vocal cord? Say what?

Yep, in true Christy fashion, I had to take it a step further. It seems I can never stick with just the “reasonable” symptoms. My body likes to go above and beyond what is typical.

Becoming Ariel

What in the world do you do for a hemorrhaged vocal cord? You don’t talk. For three weeks. Not that I could make many sounds when I tried to talk, but now I wasn’t allowed to even try. Rest is surely the answer. This made work extremely difficult. I was sidelined and had to do non-verbal tasks, like filling out forms, taking notes, and filing documents. Fun times. Even better when my coworkers had a high call volume and I could do nothing to help. I felt helpless. One of my coworkers colored a picture of Ariel and taped it to my desk and scribed the words, “I lost my voice”.

I wish I could tell you that after three weeks of not talking that my voice returned and I had no more trouble with it, but thats just not the truth. I worked that job for another 5 years, constantly on the phone, and never had enough rest for my voice to heal. Seven years later, I still have trouble speaking clearly sometimes. I struggle to project my voice, so it’s very difficult to hear me in a crowded room. I sound hoarse and my voice is shaky. Many people think I sound anxious or like I’m on the verge of tears, but it’s just how my voice is now.

No Prince Charming

Unlike Ariel, from The Little Mermaid, I had no prince to kiss who would give me back my voice. I’ve had to work for every word that comes out of my mouth. I go through ups and downs with my voice. Sometimes it sounds perfectly fine, and other times you can hear the scars.

Have you had a similar experience with asthma? What toll has coughing had on your body? Ribs? Voice? Energy levels? Share your personal experience by clicking the button below!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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