Article Thumbnail

Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Coughing

Is it priming your capillaries for weed? Does coughing up blood guarantee your imminent death? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Coughing! Is it always disgusting? Do you have to turn to the left to cough when your balls are being cradled? Cover your mouth and let’s dig in.

Lie #1: Stop Doing That, It’s Disgusting!

Is art disgusting? Is beauty disgusting? Is music disgusting? Dismissing coughs means dismissing some of the most influential bands of all time. The Beatles’ album Revolver features a cough before any instrumentation kicks in (on the hmm-not-sure-about-that-actually anti-tax song “Taxman”). 

Black Sabbath’s “Master of Reality,” which pretty much invented doom, sludge and stoner rock, includes Tony Iommi hacking away at the beginning of “Sweet Leaf.” Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time Of Dying,” from Physical Graffiti, features Robert Plant coughing in the outro, then commenting on it by saying “cough.” 

There are more, so many more coughs, and they’re not even all about weed. “Love Less” by New Order has a big ol’ cough at the start. Disgustingly, Dead Kennedys’ “Too Drunk To Fuck” ends with a cough that leads into a vomit, while “Scum,” by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, starts with a fairly grim throat-clearing. A few more: Biz Markie! Cornelius! Beck! Beastie Boys and Lee “Scratch” Perry! Nicki Minaj! DMX! Killing Joke! Eminem

There’s flippin’ loads. Turns out coughing on record is goddamned gold.

Lie #2: If You Cough Sprinkles Of Blood Into A Handkerchief, You Gon’ Die

If anyone in a film coughs into a handkerchief and secretly hides the flecks of blood on it from their loved ones, they’re dying before the end credits for sure — they’ve got some sort of dreadful Victorian wasting disease and aren’t long for this earth. However, if you’re young and healthy, coughing up a small amount of blood generally isn’t a huge concern — as a one-off, it’ll often be one of those things where the doctor ends up going, “Yeah, it’s just a thing that sometimes happens.” 

If any of those things are different, though — if you’re already unwell, a lot comes up or it happens repeatedly — then, yeah, you might be in trouble. If you’re already sick, coughing up blood could be a symptom of a whole load of unpleasant things — bronchitis, lung cancer, pneumonia or a pulmonary edema. If a large amount comes up, well, things aren’t looking great — coughing up a third of a cup of blood has a mortality rate of about 50 percent. And if it’s happening, even slightly, every time you cough, yeah, something’s pretty wrong.

See a doctor if it happens, whatever else is going on, but if you’re generally okay, don’t assume a tiny bit of red means you’re about to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Lie #3: “Honestly, Stop Doing That, It’s Vile”

Coughing, just like everygoddamnthing else, floats some people’s boats. While there is no “proper” name for a coughing fetish (and it’s less documented than its cousin, the sneezing fetish) it definitely exists, according to professor Mark Griffiths, who wrote about it in 2012, under the disgusting headline “Speaking A Phlegmish Language”: “The theme of being sexually aroused because someone is ill seems to be important for some cough fetishists. Maybe illness is associated with vulnerability that to some people may equate with some psychological equivalent of submissiveness.”

Asked for an update, Griffiths says, “It’s difficult to know whether COVID-19 being at the center of most individuals’ day-to-day lives would stimulate or inhibit cough fetishists’ behavior. From a purely visual perspective, it may be a cough and sneeze fetishist’s dream at the moment, given all the videos and clips constantly shown on television and social media. However, the chance of contracting something deadly may be a major inhibitory factor in the current climate.”

Lie #4: Coughing When Smoking Weed Gets You Higher

No it doesn’t, whatever Bridget Fonda claims in Jackie Brown

It doesn’t open up the capillaries, provoke the alveoli into absorbing more THC or excite your lungs into opening up. The main reasons to feel like coughing makes you higher are 1) that you’re coughing because you smoked a lot, and therefore are already, y’know, quite high; or 2) coughing leads to brief oxygen deprivation and a drop in blood pressure, which can make you feel higher. If anything, you’re probably absorbing less THC due to coughing doing what it’s meant to do — i.e., expelling potentially harmful particles from your body.

Lie #5: Turning Your Head and Coughing Is An Important Medical Procedure

The old palm o’nuts, turn‘n’cough maneuver is a medical staple, an important part of determining whether a man has suffered an inguinal hernia, a common condition that affects about a quarter of men at some point.

Coughing is one of the things that exacerbates the condition, so by softly gripping the scrotum and having the patient cough, a doctor can determine whether, as suspected, abdominal contents are slipping down into the scrotum.

The reason for the head-turn, however, rather than being anything particularly intricate or medical, is very low-fi: It’s so you don’t cough straight into the poor doctor’s face, you bastard. They’re already cupping your nuts in their hand, the last thing they need is a faceful of cooties. Some doctors don’t bother with the head-turn, opting for things like masks or not having their head in the way. “I don’t remember turning my head,” says Henrik (who requested to be anonymous and specifically asked to be called by that name), who had a hernia at 14, something of a rarity. “But I do remember him holding my balls and asking me to cough. I also remember how minuscule my normally gigantic schlong went.”