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Living with someone with a permanent cough/lung issues

(21 Posts)
MargotLedbetter Sun 03-Jul-22 14:17:46

I realise this thread is going to make me sound like an awful person...

Four years ago my husband had pneumonia that has left him with damage to his lungs and a condition called bronchiectasis, which causes the lungs to constantly fill up with gunk. He has to do lung-clearing exercises at least twice a day, which involves coughing to the point of retching, and the rest of the time he coughs every couple of minutes and brings up sputum into tissues or, if he hasn't got a tissue to hand (which is rare) he spits into something.

For the first couple of years he tried to be discreet and would apologise for the noises he makes when he's clearing his lungs. I've always said there's no need to apologise, he's dealing with a horrible disease and I mean that. But he's gradually become more and more relaxed about it and hoicks and spits very publicly. We were in the garden earlier this summer and he spat into a flowerbed while our daughter and her partner were here, and I could see how horrified my daughter was. We're not a family that would ever spit and certainly not in front of other people.

He was offered a very good ill health early retirement package by his company and took it in early 2020. Apart from the coughing he's otherwise incredibly fit. He was a marathon runner before the pneumonia and still runs. He's taken up cycling and does a lot of core strength work as advised by his doctor.

The coughing first started to get to me during lockdown, when we were living together 24/7. I paid for a garden studio so that I could work from home and it gave me a few hours' break each day from all the coughing and throat-clearing. We also ended up in separate bedrooms because he coughs in the night and his lungs get quite wheezy.

Over the last year he's become so relaxed about things that he's taken to leaving gunk-filled tissues all over the house. He'll leave them on the arm of the sofa when he's been watching TV, or by the side of the bath, all over the car (I've learned th hard way to look before putting my hand into one of the door pockets) or even on the kitchen table. I find them in his pockets when I'm emptying them out before putting clothes in the wash. He has a couple of sputum pots by his bed that he's got quite lax at emptying.

We've had a number of conversations about it and I've asked him to be more careful and to clear up after himself, but it's an ongoing problem and it puts me in the position of having to keep nagging, which I don't want to do.

I'm dealing with it as constructively as I can. I don't think he would have any idea of how much it sometimes gets to me. I've never commented on his coughing, never asked him to try and mute it, only ever complained about the spitting and the sputum-filled tissues.

I've tried to take the opportunities for breaks on my own when I can. Last year I spent some time supporting a friend whose mother was dying and this year I volunteered to look after a friend's dogs in her own home. At home, when we're together and it starts to get to me I find reasons to go and work outside or put noise-cancelling earphones on or listen to a podcast or music.

I'm very embarrassed that I'm allowing something like this to get to me. I thought I was bigger and more magnanimous than this and I'm disappointed by how intolerant I turn out to be. He, after all, is the one who's having to cope with coughing all the time. But I find myself dreading our fortnight's holiday in September, when we'll be alone together in hotel rooms and escape will be difficult.

Is anyone else living with someone with a chronic condition such as this? Does it affect you? Do you have any suggestions for ways of coping?

Oopsadaisy1 Sun 03-Jul-22 14:52:51

You aren’t an awful person at all, but it highlights the problems of living with someone who has a chronic illness. If he was your child you would willingly put up with it and clear up after him, until he was old enough to do it himself, but he isn’t and he is letting. You clear up behind him which isn’t on.

I really think that you need to talk to him about clearing up his own detritus and that in future he has to stop spitting in public or even in Company and be more discreet about it.

It’s very hard to suggest a way forward for you, are there any forums you could go on to see how others cope?

A friend who sadly died last year had COPD and it really was awful, I was ashamed of myself for suggesting that she tried to get something to stop the coughing and spluttering and I wasn’t with her very often, so I do sympathise with you.

H1954 Sun 03-Jul-22 15:04:48

No, you're not an awful person, you've just had enough of the 'clearing up' of your husbands messy tissues.

It should be understood that he is expelling bodily fluids which isn't nice for anyone to come in contact with, even you.

I suggest that you place a small waste bin besides his armchair, if your handy with crafting you could create an 'over chair arm' thingy specifically for his manly tissues. Same applies in the car and in the bathroom, have a receptical just for his tissues. Show him what these recepticals are and what they're for, point out that you're not nagging but you are conscious of the risk of cross infection and it's also not nice for visitors to see.

As for coping with the actual noise, sorry I cannot help other than to suggest you developed a distraction strategy.

Smileless2012 Sun 03-Jul-22 15:40:21

I have no personal experience Margot but did want to respond and say that you are not an awful person.

It must be extremely difficult for your husband but that's no excuse for him not to clean up after himself. Don't worry about nagging him about this, if that's what it takes then do it.

If he's fit enough to cycle and work on his core strength, which is great BTW, he's fit enough to dispose of dirty tissues and show some consideration when he's in the company of others, including you.

B9exchange Sun 03-Jul-22 15:57:26

I truly do sympathise, your situation is worse than mine, so I can't imagine how you cope. DH has GORD which results in a chronic cough, day and night. It is all I can do to stop myself shouting at him, though I know he can't help it, but I an sensitive to certain sounds, and coughing is one of them. It is like a physical pain each time he coughs near me.

Our youngest son had whooping cough as a toddler (GP wouldn't give the vaccine as another son had fits) and coughed for a year, I was at screaming point then too!

But I do think your DH should certainly clear up after himself, point out that he will be alienating people at this rate. In these current times, someone coughing causes some people to retreat in panic, even if nothing to do with Covid!

BlueBelle Sun 03-Jul-22 16:23:20

I feel for you I think I d be sick if I found phlegm filled tissues all around He can’t help the coughing, the illness, the phlegm but he can help the leaving it around for you to clear up that’s really, really gross.
He needs to be thinking of others and have some pride in himself It’s sounds a horrible disease for him to handle but it’s his to handle not everyone else’s
How would he feel if you left dirty sanitary towels lying around for him to clear up
It’s a terrible shame he has this problem and I bet he’s totally fed up but he has to be thoughtful towards everyone else in his company
It just isn’t on he needs to change and tighten up his cleaning up process

lixy Sun 03-Jul-22 16:41:19

Sympathy from here for you - my OH also has a chronic cough and does the dreaded exercises, huffing and puffing with attitude.
I am fortunate that he keeps an eye on tissues etc but if he does drop one I ask him to pick it up - it would be easy to do so myself but then he wouldn't know he'd dropped it. I agree with others that your husband does need to take responsibility for his own clearing up.
No, you are not an awful person, just someone who wants their husband to be the best person they can be.

MargotLedbetter Sun 03-Jul-22 17:32:50

Thank you for all your kind and supportive remarks. Sympathies to those of you living with something similar.

I think the reality of the situation is starting to sink in. His consultant has said that if he can stay fit he's looking at a normal life expectancy. So that could be 30 years of living with the situation. I'm wondering if I can find someone to talk to about it who can teach me ways of dealing with my irritation.

We had big plans for travelling together, going to India and South America and camper-vanning in Europe and I now find dreading it because wherever we go the cough and the phlegm will be coming with us. I know I should be able to rise above it but I do find it depressing.

You're right, we need to sit down and have a serious chat about the tissues and the spitting and how we can both manage this moving forward. I need to be honest and tell him how unpleasant it is. He hasn't really talked about how difficult it must be for him, so perhaps that's something I need to hear. There's no danger of infection from contact with his tissues, by the way: he doesn't have an infection, his lungs are just reacting as if he has and are manufacturing phlegm 24/7.

Thanks again.

Elizabeth27 Sun 03-Jul-22 18:12:17

You must really love him, there is no way I could put up with that.

Cabbie21 Sun 03-Jul-22 20:17:12

You have my sympathy. DH is somewhat similar, though not as severe, but always worse with the coughing after meals. He has swallowing problems and also permanently blocked sinuses. So we have bouts of coughing, throat clearing, choking over food, and endless tissues everywhere. He stuffs them in his chair, or throws them in his bin and misses, so there are usually three or four lying around. He does eventually pick them up, but why not straightaway?

MargotLedbetter Sun 03-Jul-22 20:34:12

Would you really divorce someone you've been married to for more than 30 years because they have a chronic medical condition? Although I have to say the prospect of another 25 years of this — or worse, because it can get worse — does sometimes fill me with gloom.

I was thinking of the things we've lost. We used to go to the theatre several times a year and to quite a range of modern and classical music. The theatre and the classical concerts are a no-go for him. We tried a performance at the National but so many people were staring that we left in the interval.

I'm going to suggest we go back to the specialist, or find a different specialist, to see if there's anything that can be done, even on a temporary basis, to make it easier

MargotLedbetter Sun 03-Jul-22 20:45:26


You have my sympathy. DH is somewhat similar, though not as severe, but always worse with the coughing after meals. He has swallowing problems and also permanently blocked sinuses. So we have bouts of coughing, throat clearing, choking over food, and endless tissues everywhere. He stuffs them in his chair, or throws them in his bin and misses, so there are usually three or four lying around. He does eventually pick them up, but why not straightaway?

Poor you, that sounds a lot worse than my husband. It must be awful for you both. Not sure I could deal with the choking. It must feel like living on a knife-edge.

crazyH Sun 03-Jul-22 20:53:31

margotledbetter - I too have been diagnosed with Bronchiectasis . I too cough quite a bit, but because I am on my own, it’s not a problem. I don’t produce much mucous because I avoid milk (just a tiny bit in my coffee). I don’t eat milk based sweets etc. But I can understand how you feel….

MargotLedbetter Sun 03-Jul-22 21:12:27

My husband is almost completely dairy free, too, but it doesn't seem to make much difference. I'm glad it does for you!

NainCC Sun 03-Jul-22 21:26:22

I sympathise as my late husband had similar spitting issues after treatment for throat cancer. He didn't use tissues but "spit buckets" dotted around the house, also gross, but cleanable pretty quickly. But the difference was his attitude as he knew it freaked me out. So it could be do-able with help to change his view on it, thinking of your feelings.

Glorianny Sun 03-Jul-22 21:34:01

I'm so sorry for both you and your husband it must be so difficult for both of you.
Can I suggest some practical ideas? Use masking tape to stick plastic bags to all of the places he rests and renew them regularly. Then he can't leave them lying about, they go in the bag. And line the car pockets with them.

Glorianny Sun 03-Jul-22 21:34:52

That should be tissues lying about

DiamondLily Mon 04-Jul-22 09:28:01

No, DH and I have the same issues with chronic lung problems.

It does mean you cough and choke a fair bit, but we have plenty of tissue boxes around, and used tissues are swiftly consigned to the bin or loo.

We get up from the chair to do it - no reason, assuming your DH is mobile, that he can't use a bin or toilet for disposal, or at least a plastic bag.

We are used to the problems, but there's no need to freak out visitors!

He can't help his illness - he can help the way he deals with it.💐

Scotsmum Sun 17-Jul-22 13:51:27

Sympathy to all who suffer from me. I have had a rotten chest since childhood and have often coughed for years. Not currently which is a enormous relief. Having Sjögren’s, asthma and hypothyroidism do not help much. I felt horrible about coughing especially at night as I was so aware of disturbing my poor husband. I used to take myself off to the settee with a pillow and a blanket. He would come and look for me and beg me to come back.
Now he has COPD and coughs constantly. He’s becoming less aware of it but constantly sucks pastilles when he’s having to talk on zoom. And unfortunately does not cover his mouth or always dispose of used tissues - he has a lower level of personal care than me: something we have simply had to agree to differ on but it really grates.
I remind myself how patient and tolerant of me he was, always saying it was not my fault and not to worry. I also use mindfulness to help me detach myself from it. All the best and I really hope you find a way of coming to terms with it.

RedRidingHood Sun 17-Jul-22 14:32:29

I was diagnosed with bronchiectasis in 2019 after many years of coughing. It had always been treated as asthma, even though I knew an asthma cough was different.
I was shown by a physio how to do lung clearing and it made a big difference if I did it every day. I was also given carbocisteine tablets which help. Also told to raise the head of the bed.
It wasn't as bad as your husband's but it did diminish my life as I couldn't do yoga or pilates because laying flat on my back made me cough.

I'm talking about this in the past tense because last year when I got covid I was pretty ill and in hospital. They gave me a catalogue of drugs, one of which seems to have completely cleared my chest. I suspect I did have some long standing infection that was resistant to normal antibiotics.

Anyway that doesn't help you or your DH.
I think he might ask for a review by a respiratory consultant in case there is anything they can do.
And you need to have an uncomfortable conversation with him.

Sago Sun 17-Jul-22 14:49:18

I take a “miracle” supplement not for the same affliction as your husband bur for something else.
It’s freely available, safe and cheap!
It has been successful in treating broncheactasis.
Here’s a link;