Coughing After Eating: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Coughing after eating

Have you ever thought “why do I cough when I eat” or “why do I cough after I eat”? Coughing is a natural process to clear out irritating substances from the airways, and coughing after eating may not raise concern.

Everyone coughs from time to time. But a chronic cough that occurs after every meal is annoying and frustrating. It may be a sign of some serious underlying health issues.

This type of coughing could be from a food irritant, digestive problem, health condition, or personal habits, such as rushing while eating. Let’s see the common causes and treatments for coughing after eating.

Also Read: What Causes Chest Pain after Eating and How to Treat It?

What Causes Coughing After Eating?

Coughing while eating or after eating can be of two types. One of them is a brief cough to clear the throat. The other is continued fits of coughing. Following are some of the common causes of coughing after eating:

1. Acid Reflux

Acid Reflux (also known as GERD) is a common cause of coughing after eating (1). The rising stomach acid reaches the highest level in the pharynx and triggers the cough reflex.

The lower esophageal sphincter doesn’t close completely and allows the stomach acid and the partially digested food to rise into the esophagus. A cough related to GERD may be caused due to indigestion, malnutrition, or bloating.

2. Allergies

Allergies, as well as food sensitivities, are a common cause of coughing after eating. If one experiences a cough when eating a meal, it means that the person is allergic to something in the food.

Coughing is your body’s way of responding to the trigger. Other symptoms of food allergies besides coughing include stuffy nose, post nasal drip, or watery eyes.

Food allergies alone may not be the only cause of coughing. Typical seasonal allergies can also lead to coughing after eating. Having chilled foods such as ice-creams can cause coughing after eating.

3. Asthma

Individuals who have asthma may often experience coughing after eating. Asthma attack causes inflammation of the airways and causes coughing after eating some food items or foods that contain additives.

The severity of the condition depends on the type of asthma one has.

4. Infection or Inflammation

Another common cause for coughing while eating is an infection or inflammation of the esophagus or larynx. The infection is caused by a virus, bacteria, or an environmental irritant.

Coughing due to an infection while eating can be hazardous because the food can get choked in the throat.

Besides infection to the esophagus or larynx, tonsillitis can cause a cough. Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils in which the food lining gets inflamed.

Rubbing of food against the inflamed throat triggers the coughing. Coughing can occur due to a noninfectious type of tonsillitis. In this case, food trapped in crevasses is expelled through coughing.

5. Dysphagia

Dysphagia is discomfort in swallowing the food (2). Pain or difficulty in swallowing can trigger a cough so that the body can get rid of the food. It is suggested to eat soft or pureed food in the case of dysphagia.

6. Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration Pneumonia is different from the type that pneumonia caused by viruses. It is caused by breathing in food, liquid or vomit into the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia is a severe condition and you should seek urgent medical help.

Coughing After Eating: Treatment Options

Here are some natural treatments that can help reduce coughing after eating. These techniques include slowing down while eating, avoiding certain foods, and practice certain methods to keep the throat moist.

1. Slow Down While Eating

One of the factors that lead to coughing after eating is not chewing the food thoroughly. It is best to slow down and chew the food properly. This step ensures the food gets digested easily.

2. Avoid Foods that Trigger Coughing

Avoid foods which trigger a cough such as spicy foods. One way to ensure that you avoid these foods is to maintain a food journal. Food journals serve as reminders on which foods to avoid in the future.

3. Eat Healthy Diet

To avoid coughing due to allergies or food sensitivities you should eat healthy food. Healthy eating means to avoid processed foods, salt, sugar, and greasy and spicy dishes. Include a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables.

4. Stay Hydrated

An irritated, dried out throat causes coughing. Staying hydrated will keep the throat moisturized and prevent coughing. Hydration is not only limited to water. You can sip on warm teas and soothing beverages.

5. Breathe Warm Air

Besides hydration, breathing warm air helps reduce a cough and reduce phlegm. Some techniques include taking a hot shower or use a humidifier or vaporizer.

Another technique is to cup your hands over your mouth and nose and take some deep breaths. This simple technique heats the air that one is breathing.

6. Try Over-the-Counter Medicines

Over the counter medicines reduce coughing after eating. One of them is digestive enzymes which help increase digestion. Some supplements can help you reduce gastric problems and stomach acid problems.

Tips to Prevent Coughing After Eating

Some lifestyle changes can help you prevent coughing after eating. Here are some prevention tips to avoid coughing after eating:

  • Abstain from foods that trigger a cough or allergies. Tree nuts, dairy, soy, gluten, fish, and shellfish are some common foods that trigger a cough.
  • Do not eat food in a hurry. Make sure food is chewed up correctly for optimal digestion.
  • Maintain a healthy diet that consists of fresh fruits and vegetables. Some foods to stay away from include processed, greasy, and spicy foods.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the home. Dry air tends to irritate the throat.
  • Hydration is a way to keep throat moisturized. Drink plenty of water, warm teas, or soothing beverages. You can enhance the effects of hot tea by adding a little honey or fresh lemon juice.
  • Get enough sleep. Coughing after eating can be tiresome on the body. Sleep helps the body recover and helps ward off irritants.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking is a common culprit of coughing. Smoking damages the protective lining of the throat. It also moves mucus out of the lungs and into the throat.

When to Seek Medical Help?

Mild to moderate coughing shouldn’t concern you much. However, you should consult a doctor when the coughing becomes more severe.

Ask medical help for any of the following:

  • A severe cough
  • Blood in the mucus
  • There are other symptoms such as bloating, digestive upset, or heartburn
  • A person is a smoker
  • Chronic coughing which occurs after most meals

Coughing while or after eating can be seen as either a frustrating annoyance or a sign of something serious. If it is a result of digestive issues or allergies, you should try to avoid the triggers causing it.

Once you know the cause of coughing after eating, it is easier to treat it. You can opt for the above treatments to decrease coughing. If still, you don’t see any improvement, you should consult a doctor.

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Irene Entila

Irene is a health and fitness consultant based out of Albuquerque, NM. She was a personal trainer during the years of 2010-2013. She holds a Bachelors of Liberal Arts with a focus on creative writing from The Evergreen State College. She obtained her personal trainer license through Seattle Central College in 2010. Irene has been an athlete since childhood. She currently train and compete in ultra-marathon running and jiu jitsu. She started health writing in 2009 as a hobby through her personal blog. She believes that people can seek help from a trainer or trained profession to reach fitness and health goals. Though, people can learn a lot about them and promote self-sufficiency if they had affordable resources. By 2010, Irene started contributing to several health websites while completing her personal trainer certification and training for marathons. She saw how certain health variables affected her training and wanted to share this information with the public. Since then, Irene has written various articles about health and fitness featured on different magazines.