Coughing is a very important bodily function. It is the way that our body protects our lungs and airway from irritants and other material. This is especially important if you have any changes in your swallow function, which is unfortunately common in individuals with PD, and can lead to aspiration pneumonia.
If food or liquid “goes the wrong way,” your body should respond appropriately and you should have a forceful reflexive cough response. Otherwise, the material can travel down to your lungs and become infected.
So, make sure to listen to your body, and cough if you have the urge to do so. This is not the time to worry about your manners and attempt to stifle your cough. Instead, cough until you no longer feel that tickle or until you feel as though your airway is clear (however, do try to cover your mouth). Make sure to swallow after you cough in order to bring anything down the right way or, if really needed, expectorate into a napkin. When in the midst of a coughing fit do not try to take a sip of your drink or another bite of food, as this will only make things worse.
Now that you understand the importance of a cough, let’s talk about how you can improve and strengthen it. Unfortunately, cough function is frequently impaired in individuals with PD, making their cough weaker and less productive.
But, there is hope! Many research studies have demonstrated improved cough strength in response to expiratory muscle strength training. The EMST-150 is a training device on the market that has been used in most of these research studies. It can be purchased online, and is affordable and easy to use. Unlike a spirometer which simply measures lung volume, the EMST has a calibrated pressure relief valve, so that you are actually exercising against resistance. In the same way that you might lift weights to get stronger, you can use this device to strengthen the muscles used for cough.