Coughing after eating

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Why do we cough?

Coughing is a protective mechanism of our body, it helps keep our throats clear from foreign particles, bacteria, or any other irritants.

The speed of coughing is around 50 miles per hour, it is surprisingly effective in clearing the airways and lungs.

A great video by the American Lung Association explaining why we cough.

Is coughing an illness?

There are many reasons why we cough. For example, it’s quite common that dust gets into our airways and we cough to get rid of it.

Coughing itself is not an illness, but might indicate a health problem.

Occasional coughs happen to all of us every now and then, however, a persistent cough (longer than 8 weeks), or a cough that has some sort of a “trigger event” is not normal.

We all know that when we get cold or have flu, we cough. However, in this article, we are going to examine a different case, when eating is the “trigger” of coughing.


Why do I cough after I eat?

There are a few conditions that cause coughing after eating:

According to these studies, the most common reason for chronic cough in non-smoking patients is acid reflux.

Let’s take a closer look at eating-related coughing caused by acid reflux.

Why does acid reflux cause coughing after eating?

Acid reflux happens when the contents of the stomach can move back into the esophagus.

There are two main theories trying to explain reflux-related coughing. Basically, both of them suggest that the stomach acid entering the food pipe, or going even higher, into the throat causing the cough.

How to diagnose acid reflux cough?

If you have a chronic cough – cough that doesn’t get better even after 8 weeks – you should see a doctor to find the problem.

Cough caused by acid reflux is fairly common, but the diagnosis is not easy.

First, an x-ray might be needed to make sure the lungs are healthy. If the chest radiographic findings are normal, there is a good chance that acid reflux causes the persistent cough.

According to this study, up to 75% of people suffering from acid reflux coughs show no gastrointestinal symptoms.

Doctors tend to recommend a 24h esophageal pH monitoring, as this is considered to be the best method to diagnose the connection between reflux and coughing, even though this method is not sensitive enough to detect a short period of reflux or non-acid reflux.

Since there is no surefire way of telling whether a chronic cough is related to reflux or not, doctors might recommend medications in case reflux seems to be the likely cause.

How to treat coughing after eating?

If you have a persistent cough that happens after having a meal, you can do a lot to manage this condition.

While the first thing should be to consult with a doctor, you might want to try the following recommendations.

Find out which foods make you cough

It is quite possible that there are certain trigger foods that cause reflux and coughing for you. The most common ones are:

Since everybody reacts differently to these foods, it’s a good idea to use a food diary, which can help you find the connection between certain foods and coughing after eating.

Once you know your trigger foods, try to avoid them and see if your coughing gets better.

Eat less, slower, and more often

Eating too much or too fast can easily lead to an acid reflux attack.

If you cannot find your trigger foods but you know you are prone to eating too much or too fast, try to slow down and limit the amount you eat.

Lie down

This is a tricky one. If you have reflux, stomach acids are flowing up into the esophagus and you lie down, your condition might actually get somewhat worse.

When lying down, it is even easier for the stomach acid to enter the esophagus. So if your coughing or other eating-related chest symptoms get worse when lying down, you might have reflux.

Final thoughts

Acid reflux is a common cause of coughing after eating.

It’s always important to consult with a doctor if you have a chronic cough. However, if the coughing is caused by reflux, by following the few simple tips listed above, you can do a lot to manage the condition.