I’ve got an issue going on with my vagus nerve at the moment and the throat spasms have been affecting my voice and ability to speak for any length of time. It’s also causing this persistent dry cough, despite not feeling sick or having any respiratory symptoms. It’s much worse later in the day and gets particularly bad after about 30 minutes of talking.
I’ve been working with the very talented PT/nutritionist Joe Tatta for the last week and I am seeing much improvement already. I’m also learning so much on vagus nerve rehab.
Joe is a Musculoskeletal Pain Expert and you may recall our wonderful interview on the last Anxiety Summit on pain and anxiety.
Let me give you some of the back story. Just over a week ago I posted this message in a private facebook group of integrative practitioners/colleagues:
I’d love some help for me please. I have this ongoing spasmodic dry cough that starts as soon as I talk and gets worse later in the day. As you can imagine it’s affecting my day to day meetings, seeing clients and doing interviews, not to mention being highly irritating!
I don’t feel sick at all and have no congestion. It started after my NYC trip and a really frightening flight over the Colorado mountains!
We had the most awful turbulence and it felt like wings on the plane were going to break. People were screaming and the parents behind us were reassuring their kids saying it’s ok, it’s just like a roller coaster ride. I was sitting next to a 6’4’’ young man who had just completed training in the Coast Guard. He was also terrified and said they had taught him how to survive a boat going down but not how to survive a plane going down.
I believe my immune system got suppressed big time! The day after I got home I got the flu for the first time in 30+ years and I felt pretty grim for a day and then recovered nicely over the next 4-5 days. The flu was over 10 days ago but this stupid cough continues!
One night I could not sleep due to the coughing and decided to try and relax my airways with GABA. I know how effective GABA is for stiff and tense muscles so why not try it for the throat spasms I was having? I am now able to have a reasonable conversation for say 15-30 mins if I take 500mg GABA opened on to my tongue. Viola! a new use for GABA – pretty cool!
I must be low in GABA because I’m able to take upwards of 5 (and sometime more) doses of 500mg a day and not feel too wiped out. That’s a lot of GABA for me – 125mg to 250mg used to be enough for the anxiety I once experienced! I did have a bit of my old early morning waking with anxiety (that I used to have in my late 30s) that week of the flu but that’s now gone.
I’m also using a homeopathic called Boiron Drosera. I’ve never had asthma and don’t have much experience with it but from what I’m reading it sounds like the“cough-variant” of asthma!?
I’m asking here because I’m intrigued by this whole scary flight/depressed immunity/GABA for the spasms thing and wonder if anyone here has any insights?
Joe Tatta responded in about 30 minutes with this message:
Sounds like you have a vagus nerve problem. Potentially loss of parasympathetics. You can read some in this article but there is much more…
Here is the article he shared: Arnold’s nerve cough reflex: evidence for chronic cough as a sensory vagal neuropathy
Arnold’s nerve ear-cough reflex is recognised to occur uncommonly in patients with chronic cough. In these patients, mechanical stimulation of the external auditory meatus can activate the auricular branch of the vagus nerve (Arnold’s nerve) and evoke reflex cough. This is an example of hypersensitivity of vagal afferent nerves, and there is now an increasing recognition that many cases of refractory or idiopathic cough may be due to a sensory neuropathy of the vagus nerve.
The paper presents two cases where the cough was successfully treated with gabapentin. Gabapentin (also known as Neurontin) affects GABA levels and this why I get such great results with GABA.
Gabapentin is drug that is primarily used to treat seizures and neuropathic pain. It is also used for restless leg syndrome and hot flashes, and off-label for anxiety, insomnia, fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder. I’d love to see GABA being studied and used for these conditions especially because gabapentin can cause withdrawal syndrome: Withdrawal symptoms after gabapentin discontinuation and an increased risk of suicidal thoughts.
Joe offered to meet with me via skype and I learned that the neuro-rehab is key. I’ve been doing breathing exercises and humming every hour on the hour for the last week i.e. about 10 times a day. When I hum it’s the “happy birthday” song and I have to think of a specific birthday. I hum and smile and think about my baby sister’s 7th birthday party 37 years ago. I had just come back from Australia and I have such great memories of it! We chatted about it at the weekend and had a good laugh.
Because I’ve had so many questions about what is going on with me and what I’m doing, I have decided to start this blog post and I’ll continue to add to it. I’ve been documenting what has been happening as I go through this rehab because I’m finding it so fascinating.
Stay tuned for all the details:
- More on the vagus nerve and why it’s so important
- Why the very scary plane ride triggered this issue I’m having
- How GABA works to stop the spasms in 5-10 seconds (I have a video to share)
- Exactly what exercises I’m doing for the rehab and why you need to build up and not do gargling exercises on day one
- More details about the nutrients: GPC and acetyl-l-carnitine
- And an interview with Joe Tatta to share his expertise (I’m the patient/client here and am in learning mode)
I wouldn’t suggest trying any of this yourself until I share more because from what I’ve learned so far, you need to slowly built up to certain of the exercises.
Here is the first video (taken 3/16/16) where I share the story of the scary plane ride and my flu and the start of the throat spasms. You can hear how my voice sounds and how quickly 500mg GABA relaxes the spasms in my throat/neck. I share what I learned from Joe Tatta about it being connected the vagus nerve.
Here is the second video (also taken 3/16/16) where I demonstrate the 3-6-6 second breathing exercise and the happy birthday song humming exercise. I have to think of an actual birthday. I hum and think of my baby sister’s birthday (you can see those photos above). Be warned, I am what I call “musically challenged!”
Here is the third video (taken late evening 3/16/16) where you can hear how bad my voice and throat gets later in the day.
Here is the video taken at Heavenly ski resort on 3/27/16. You can see me doing my humming exercises in between skiing on this beautiful mountain and how I needed GABA after a strenuous ski run. And I summarize what has been working for me so far. I hope you enjoy the stunning scenery too! I feel so fortunate that we can hop in the car and visit such an amazing place like this on the weekend! It’s about 90 minutes up the hill from where we live.
And here is the final video in this series (taken yesterday 3/31/16). I demonstrate the exercises I am currently doing: 3-6-6 second breathing, humming (which has improved), the yawning and the tongue massage of the roof of my mouth. I also talk about GPC and acetyl-l-carnitine.
You can probably see and hear that I am much improved and have not needed much GABA for the last two days now. In the last week I have interviewed Dr. Josh Axe for his “Eat Dirt” book and Dr. Kelly Brogan for her “A Mind of Your Own” book. And Dr. David Brady has interviewed me for his Fibrofix Summit and Dr. Eric Zielinski interviewed me for his Essential Oils Summit. For each interview I did my exercises right beforehand and took 500mg GABA half way through the interview and had immediate relief.
I continue to improve and have not needed GABA for 4 days and only have a very mild hint of the throat feeling late evening.
Two days ago I added an essential oil called Parasympathetic. It contains clove and lemon and I’ll share more in a future post. Right now I can share that I used too much the first day and had the very dry mouth I experienced with too much GPC and acetyl-l-carnitine.
A quick update to let you know that my dry spasmodic cough has completely gone. I have not had any symptoms for a week and I have stopped the vagus nerve rehab exercises, GPC, acetyl-l-carnitine, the essential oil called Parasympathetic and GABA.
I so appreciate all the caring and concerned comments, feedback and ideas for me! And boy, am I grateful for Joe and his expertise!
I will still be interviewing Joe so he can share the theory and address questions so please post questions you may have.
If any of this resonates with you or if you have any other questions I’d love to hear back from you.
Please post them in the comments section below.