Cough Syncope (Time To Black Out)

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Cough Syncope

I have been trying to document my blackout or passing out issues that I have been having for as many years as I can remember, medically known as “Cough Syncope”. More often than I care to count, I have coughed so hard that, I have nearly blacked out. It is really a very weird and strange sensation. It is hard to describe to someone who has never just totally lost all control over their own body.

Normally it starts with a strong cough which seems to be caused by a tickle in the back of my throat (more on this later in this post). It then progresses to my vision starting to get cloudy and then it rapidly progresses to me losing control over my body, with my hands and feet starting to get weak and then they tremor, jerk, and twitch sometimes violently. My body becomes numb, I can’t talk, I can’t think, I can’t even breathe, even if I wanted to. I have been told that my eyes sometimes even roll back into my head. At this point I have no control over my body, I’m just along for the ride. I’m able to hear everything most of the time and I can usually very clearly hear my wife and children, asking me if I’m OK, or if have I come back yet. They have really become accustomed to this as have I.

Over the years I have been able to compensate for some of it, by quickly getting down on one knee during the early part of the onset or gripping my chair very firmly and in some cases trying to intentionally hyperventilate, which really doesn’t do much to help or lessen the episode(s), but those things to actually help me lessen my fall or avoid falling violently out of my chair. Sometimes it works, sometimes, it doesn’t.

Over the years, I have fallen out of my chair at work. That was so violent and so embarrassing, I was with several of my co-workers and I actually found myself making up a story as to what I just tripped over, instead of telling them that I had nearly blacked out and fallen backward out of my chair and fell into the cabinet and onto the floor.

I have fallen and knocked both of my front teeth out (caused by Vasovagal syncope, which is a cool story for another day and another post) and I have had one episode where I was on my way home with my son (who was driving) and  I coughed very hard and had my worse episode yet. I was suddenly in a tunnel with the walls closing in on my eyes and then everything went really slow in motion and then my vision froze. It was like watching an old reel-to-reel movie when the bulb burns through the film. Then the sound started to warble like I had my head in a blender or something, and my body froze up. This lasted about five seconds and then I started to regain consciousness slowly. In this episode, I didn’t violently shake or convulse, like normal. It was odd, intense, and much worse than any of my previous episodes.

My pulmonologist, has run some tests (chest x-ray and spirometry), and my lungs are fine he at first thought that maybe I had asthma, but when I took the methacholine challenge, I made it to the last round before I started to have problems, so if I do have asthma, it isn’t that bad, but all that is for a different post on a different day.

I’m a non-smoker, never even touched a cigarette or cigar before in my life. But it really looks and sounds like a major case of smoker’s cough. My allergist (who I found really by accident as he was the only local doctor that ran the methacholine challenge, saving me an hour’s drive), decided that maybe my cough is related to a bundle of nerves in my airway. He recommended that I try Neurontin (Gabapentin) to relax this bundle and see if that helps. Well taking the Neurontin twice a day as prescribed and taking Zyrtec once a day along with Flonase once a day really helped me for almost a year. But I’m sad to say it seems to be back again.

Oh, Joy!

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