Vitamin B12 deficiency: Two signs in your cough that may be signalling low levels of B12

Dr Dawn Harper on signs of vitamin B12 and vitamin D deficiency

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B12 is naturally found in food from animal origins, but fortified cereals also have an active effect. In the initial stages, someone with a deficiency may experience constant mood changes that may affect their quality of life. Further down the line, however, a shortage of B12 may lead to irreversible damage to the nerves. Two signs in your cough could be indicative of an advanced deficiency.

The symptoms most commonly associated with Vitamin B12 deficiency include weak muscles, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, trouble walking, nausea, decreased appetite, and irritability.

As the nerves in the throat become progressively damaged, however, symptoms may also include a dry and chronic cough.

In one early paper published in the Chest Journal, researchers wrote: “Vitamin B12 deficiency causes sensory neuropathy, that might contribute to the pathogenesis of chronic cough and pharyngolaryngeal dysfunction.”

The authors concluded their report by saying that in causing inflammation, vitamin B12 deficiency could lead to chronic cough and airway dysfunction.

READ MORE: B12 deficiency symptoms: The warning sign that may be apparent when walking up the stairs

In other words, as the larynx is injured, it becomes hypersensitive to the slightest irritant, which results in a chronic and dry cough.

They reasoned that B12 deficiency may have a role in chronic cough by inducing sensory neuropathy.

Sensory neuropathy occurs when the body’s sensory nerves become damaged, which is an infamous complication associated with B12 deficiency.

In the nervous system, vitamin B12 helps produce a substance called myelin, which acts as a protective shield for the nerves and helps transmit sensation.

Medical News Today explains: “People who are vitamin B12 deficient may not produce enough myelin to coat their nerves. Without this coating, nerves can become damaged.”

According to the website City Allergy, laryngeal sensory neuropathy is an uncommon cause of chronic cough.

Gary Stadtmauer, MD, explained that the typical patient suffering from laryngeal sensory neuropathy may be incorrectly be diagnosed with postnasal drip, allergy, reflux or asthma.

Their cough may interfere with their social life, sleep and work performance.

The dry cough may last for seconds to minutes, and sometimes longer, and may incite throat clearing.

What’s more, the onset of the cough may be abrupt following a viral illness, or sometimes surgery, according to Mr Stadtmauer.

The same medication prescribed for neuropathy, however, may be effective in suppressing cough.

Mr Stadtmauer added: “Most patients can taper off medications although some need to be on the medication long-term and sometimes in combination.

“The good news is that the sooner the effective drug is started, the better the response and the shorter the duration of the cough.”

What causes B12 deficiency?

Vitamin D deficiency is often caused by a lack of intrinsic factor – a protein made in the stomach – which is needed to absorb vitamin B12.

Sometimes, vitamin B12 deficiency can result from surgery that removes the end of the small intestine, where vitamin B12 is absorbed.

Other risk factors for the condition include a family history of the disease, Crohn’s disease, HIV, being an older adult and following a strict vegetarian diet.

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