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Cough clinic helps patients finally find relief in metro Detroit

Expert says most coughs caused by the 'big three'

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GROSSE POINTE, Mich. – A cough is one of the top reasons people see a doctor, yet some patients suffer for weeks, months or even years with this annoying symptom.

Kimberly Lowande, of Eastpointe, Mich., clearly remembers the night her chronic cough began.

"My dogs had actually gotten out, and I was very stressed because it was night time. I couldn't find them, so I'm trying to run in the neighborhood to find them and my airways became so inflamed that I couldn't breathe anymore, and the coughing was so bad," said Lowande.

She found her dogs, but couldn't lose the cough.

"Over the months, it was getting worse and worse," said Lowande.

As one month became eight, her cough went from annoying to life-changing.

"The coughing became so bad that I would vomit. I actually stopped my social life. I stopped talking on the phone. I stopped going out on social events," said Lowande. "I only talked to my immediate family when I had to because I could only get two words out before the coughing would begin again."

Lowande's case was complicated by the fact that she's also been battling metastatic breast cancer for the past nine and a half years. As her cough worsened, she saw five different doctors but no one could give her a clear answer or stop her cough.

"I received diagnoses all the way from possible cancer to pulmonary fibrosis to 'I don't know,'" Lowande said.

In desperation, she turned to the Internet.

"I thought, you know, there are pain clinics, there are sleep clinics, is there a cough clinic? So flippantly, I went onto Google and typed in 'cough clinic' and lo and behold, there is an actual cough clinic, and it was right in my backyard in Grosse Pointe."

In fact, the Beaumont Grosse Pointe Cough Clinic specializes in cases like Lowande's.

"This is a cough that lingers for a couple of months, and we have had patients that have seen us that have coughed for 30 to 40 years even, said Dr. Robert Marchese, director of the Grosse Pointe Cough Clinic.

Marchese is a cough detective of sorts. He said the best clues often come from the patients themselves.

"Most importantly is to listen to the patient. The patient will usually tell you upon a good history what is causing the cough. But it can be complicated," said Marchese.

Based in the Beaumont Hospital-Grosse Pointe, the Cough Clinic draws on the expertise of multiple specialists and compresses what could be months of high tech testing into about two weeks.

Doctor: 'Big three' often to blame for chronic cough

Marchese says the "big three" are most often to blame for a chronic cough. In this context, that's acid reflux, cough asthma and problems involving the upper airways such as allergies, sinuses, post nasal drip, and vocal cord issues.

"Those are the 'big three' and account for 95 to 99 percent of all cases of cough, however 50 percent of patients with a chronic cough have two of those categories, and 25 percent have all three of those categories," explained Marchese.

But there are exceptions:

"We have picked up cases of lung cancer," said Marchese. "We had a patient who had a popcorn seed lodged in his right middle lobe of his lung."

In that case, it was the patient's wife who provided the critical clue.

"The wife told us, 'You've been coughing ever since we watched that movie that night.' Turned out he was having popcorn and a piece of popcorn went down in his lung, so we went down with a scope and found it, and that is why he was coughing."

In Lowande's case, the diagnosis was far more typical.

"As it turned out, with all her other medical problems, it was a common cause of cough," said Marchese. "She has acid reflux and really bad asthma."

Lowande's cough triggers are now under control.

"I'm starting to feel human again. I can call people on the phone and talk to them," said Lowande. "I am having a conversation with you right now, and I am not coughing."

She encourages everyone struggling with a nagging cough to keep pushing.

"If it took me to my last breath, I was not going to give up. Just don't do it. Don't give up. Keep looking. Keep trying to find the answer," said Lowande. "I don't know where I would be today if I wouldn't have found this place. This is Grosse Pointe's best kept secret."

The Beaumont Grosse Pointe Cough Clinic is for anyone who's been coughing for at least 8 weeks. You do not need a doctor's referral to make an appointment.

To learn more about the Cough Clinic, click here.