Using natural medicine to tackle a pleurisy cough

Pleurisy is a viral infection of the pleurae, the moist lining that wraps around the lungs. This results in an exudate that can cause adhesions between pleurae and lungs.

The key symptom is pain with breathing. Breathing may be shallow to minimise pain which comes from the movement of the inflamed pleurae against the lungs. Coughs can be excruciating. The pain may be vague or it can be sharp, stabbing, severe. It can be one-sided.

Listening to the lungs, for the friction rub, the noise of pleurae rasping on lungs, is diagnostic. Xrays show little if anything. A full blood count may show elevated white blood cells, showing that the immunity system is responding to an infection. There may be a slight fever. There may be referred pain, to the abdomen, neck and shoulder.

Pleurisy is usually secondary to pneumonia. Other causes include viral infections, TB, lupus, trauma to thorax, neoplasia. The underlying cause must always be identified and addressed.

Antiviral medication is limited in usefulness. Antibiotics are helpful only for bacterial infections, since pleurisy is usually caused by a virus. Acetaminophen or other NSAID reduces the inflammation. Wrapping the chest with wide bandages reduces the motion of breathing and can ease pain. Opiates might be used for severe pain, but are addictive.

Herbs are appropriate. Pleurisy root, Asclepias tuberosa, is a specific. It is mixed with other herbs that are lung tonics, antiviral, and immunosupportive. A cold or chilly person, calls for warming herbs like cayenne. Underlying pneumonia puts the emphasis on lung support and immunity.

Supplements for boosting the immunity system are appropriate. A mix of supplements is better than a single. Look for a supplement that includes some of the following: Vitamin A, C, E, bioflavonoids, selenium, zinc, reduced glutathione, lipoic acid.

Carrageen is soothing for the pleurae, and is immunosupportive. Rinse a handful, boil in water 15 minutes, strain, and sip many cups daily.

A nice source of bioflavonoids is a concentrated blackcurrant cordial, no sugar added. A good brand is Mr Jeffares, made in Wexford, and available at supermarkets. It supports the immunity system. Add to carrageen using a ratio of 1:8 or so. Add squeezed lemon juice, honey, ginger or chilli to taste.

Hydrotherapy is a traditional treatment that will boost circulation and immunity. This is best done by someone else to the patient who is lying on his back in bed. Dunk a thick towel in hot water, wring tightly, put over the chest, and put a dry towel and wool blankets atop. Leave for five minutes. Dunk a small thin towel in ice water, wring tightly, quickly switch the hot towel with the cold, and replace the dry towel and blankets. The blankets keep in the heat. Do not remove the cold towel until it has heated up or dried out, about 20 minutes to an hour later. This is for robust people with a strong constitution or vitality. For people with a weak constitution, use cold tap water (no ice) and use a smaller or thinner towel (less volume of water to dry out). Chest hydrotherapy boosts blood circulation to the chest and makes immunity function more effective. It is relaxing for many, and may induce a deeply refreshening sleep.

Acupuncture supports and stimulates the lungs and the immunity system. It is tailored to fit the individual who may be strong or weak, hot or cold, dry or wet, yin or yang.

If there is no appetite, do not eat. Avoid large meals so that the body can focus on clearing the viral infection. Avoid sugars and refined carbohydrates which reduce immunity function. Good foods are broths – light and easily digested.

  • Nicolas Kats ND, Lic Ac, is a US Naturopathic Doctor and licenced acupuncturist. He practices at Dooneen Clinic, Clifden, and at Health & Herbs, Galway. 086-3651590 (text only), drnkats@eircom.net