POP and the Flu: Are You Literally Coughing Your Guts Out?

It’s flu season, and often women with pelvic organ prolapse feel as though they are coughing their guts out.

 If you’re like me, the germ-phoebe aspect of your personality starts to ramp up around this time of year. We all start paying more attention to washing our hands, get nervous about grabbing the door at stores where we shop, walk the other way when we hear someone coughing. No one wants to get a cold or the flu. Yet despite the extra protective measures we take, we somehow manage to contract something. The majority of us are exposed to hundreds of virus infested surfaces every day; there’s just no way to get around it beyond wrapping ourselves in one of those protective plastic bubbles. Not a very user friendly way to avoid getting sick.

 When I travel by air, particularly long flights overseas, I have concerns about flu virus exposure in airplanes and airports, knowing that the odds of my catching a bug are increased by being exposed to many people in an enclosed environment. We nearly always catch a virus as a result of our germ exposed hands touching our face (mouth, nose, eyes). Every time someone coughs on a plane, I think to myself “keep your hands off your face, keep your hands off your face,” reciting it to myself like some kind of magical mantra that will protect me. Although I felt badly for the young child coughing non-stop a few rows up from me on a recent airbus, I equally worried that somehow the germs would float back to me in the recycled air of the plane.

Somehow, I managed to make the long journey in both directions and come home with my body flu-free. Lucky me, I figured now I could relax. Then the inevitable happened-a friend came over, sat at my kitchen table with his stuffy head and cough, and I picked up his bug. Standard operating procedure-take all necessary precautions when traveling and then come home and relax into germ-land. Serves me right for letting my guard down and returning to my hands-on-my-face bad habits.

As I was coughing (and coughing and coughing), I started thinking I should revisit how coughing impacts women with POP. Although chronic coughing is a cause of POP, coughing related to a respiratory condition or smoker’s cough typically lingers for years, whereas virus related coughing typically comes on fast and hard, leaving you scrambling for any remedy that will provide relief. When women with POP cough, their internal organs jerk downward into the vaginal canal. Any woman can check this by cupping her hand to her pubic zone when she feels a cough coming on. You can literally feel the downward pressure of the internal organs and tissues. For most women with POP, on top of a scratchy throat, tight chest, runny nose, aches, and/or fever, the pressure down below which is magnified every time they cough is a side effect that comes with a cold or flu. During a coughing jag, most women feel like their guts are coming out the bottom end-because they are.

Women who've navigated POP for years typically have a few tricks up their sleeves when it comes to navigating symptoms. ‘Bend at the waist/cross the knees’ is a technique many of us both on the surgical repair and non-surgical treatment sides of the fence use and one I've utilized for so many years, it is now a deeply embedded habit. When I feel a cough or sneeze coming on, I automatically go into bend/cross position.  I highly recommend women who have not tried this technique experiment to see if it helps. The needs of women with POP vary considerably because we navigate different POP types, degrees of severity, and treatments, but there is no harm caused trying this technique. And do your best to keep your hands off of your face!