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Coughing After Eating - Why Do I Cough After I Eat?

The Hyfe Mind

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August 5, 2020
CoughPro is not a medical product. It is a wellness app intended only for users to obtain a better understanding of their cough. It is not intended to diagnose, monitor, or treat any illness.

We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.

A woman sitting at the table looking sad because she's coughing after eating

Is coughing after eating a serious issue? It depends on the cause. If it's a one-time occurrence, when you experience a coughing fit after something "going down the wrong pipe", cough after eating isn't a cause for concern. However, if it's chronic, lasting more than 8 weeks every time after you eat, there might be an underlying medical cause. Let's look into possible reasons why you may be coughing after eating.

Asthma

Asthma is a common condition that causes chronic coughing. Other common symptoms associated with asthma include chest tightness, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Coughing occurs when your airway narrows due to a trigger such as exercise, toxins, viruses, changes in temperature, or even allergens. If you have asthma and experience cough after eating, you might have ingested food you're allergic to.

Food Allergies

Coughing within two hours after eating may indicate a food allergy. Although these usually start during childhood, you can still develop a food allergy at any age. Surprisingly, you can even be allergic to something you have been eating your whole life. Allergies can also depend on the type of food.

The usual food allergens include:

  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts

Why do I start coughing after drinking or eating dairy?

Because you may be allergic to dairy products, your immune system can usually filter harmful from harmless substances. But when you have a food allergy, your immune system thinks it is dangerous. 

What happens is that your immunity overreacts and mounts an attack against the allergen to clear it from your body. In the process, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose
  • Tingling or an itchy mouth
  • Hives

These symptoms usually occur soon after you eat. In severe allergic reactions, it is possible to develop anaphylaxis. This potentially life-threatening condition is rare but alarming. When anaphylaxis happens, your airway constricts, making it difficult to breathe. Call your doctor immediately. 

Most of the time, food allergy symptoms are usually mild. Nevertheless, knowing what you are allergic to will definitely help your doctor provide you with the best care.

How to stop coughing from spicy food?

Try not to eat spicy food as much as possible. You can even add some butter to make the food less spicy. Secondly, have some milk after such food. You can also replace spicy food with soft food.

In mild acid reflux, the acid in your stomach travels upwards through your esophagus. Most people can experience this from time to time. Since your esophagus is just a conduit for food to pass through and is not resistant to acids, it may get irritated. When this happens, you can develop a cough. Along with it, you may also feel a burning sensation in your chest and a bitter or sour taste in your mouth. If this cycle continues for too long, it may point to a more severe condition.

GERD

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a chronic form of acid reflux. Common symptoms of GERD include:

  • Excessive gas
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty swallowing

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is a condition similar to GERD. However, this time the acid may travel all the way up to the nasal passages. When this happens, you may experience nasal drip and hoarseness.

What to do about coughing after you eat if you have GERD?

There is, unfortunately, no cure for these conditions, but here are some steps you can take to alleviate the discomfort and coughing:

  • Eat slower and chew food thoroughly before swallowing
  • Avoid triggering food such as coffee, citrus fruits, alcohol, fatty food, and soft drinks
  • Consume smaller meals
  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day

You can follow a very specific GERD diet to manage acid reflux and cough after eating.

Respiratory Infections

Upper respiratory infections can also cause coughing which can become worse after you eat. This happens when you're already congested and eating just contributes to the throat congestion.

Sometimes, the cough may even persist long after your body has cleared the infection. The affected airway becomes more challenging to treat because the cough prevents healing. It also leads to further inflammation of your airway, further worsening the cough. When this happens, your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug to break this cycle. 

Other infections that viruses, bacteria, or fungi may cause can affect your windpipe and larynx. Conditions like strep throat and laryngitis are examples of these. They cause inflammation of the throat and coughing, especially after you eat. 

In terms of treatment, targeting the cause of the infection will usually relieve your cough as well. In addition, your doctor may prescribe you proton pump proton inhibitors, which are medications that lower stomach acid production.

Aspiration Pneumonia

Illustration of lungs with pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia occurs when tiny particles like food get trapped in the airways. Sometimes these particles are actually food you ingest during a meal, which can lead to cough right after you eat.

The lungs may have difficulty expelling these substances. In addition, their extended stay where they are not supposed to be might enable a bacterial infection to take hold. 

You may experience chest pain along with a cough. People suffering from acid reflux or who have difficulty swallowing are at the highest risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. Aside from wheezing and coughing after eating, common symptoms of aspiration pneumonia include:

  • A fever that develops within an hour of eating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Congestion after eating or drinking
  • Fatigue or shortness of breath while eating
  • Painful swallowing
  • A burning sensation in the chest

Aspiration pneumonia is a severe condition that requires treatment. This condition may be “silent” in severely compromised patients because they cannot cough despite the pooling of substances in the airways. Without treatment, this can lead to lung abscesses or even respiratory failure.

Aspiration from Dysphagia

Dysphagia is a condition that leads to difficult and painful swallowing. Apart from this, you may also experience a sensation of food stuck in your throat. This disorder leads to coughing or gagging while eating. In addition, conditions such as acid reflux, esophageal cancer, or a head injury may cause dysphagia. 

Aspiration from dysphagia takes place when throat muscles do not work correctly. Consult your doctor to determine the underlying medical condition causing your symptoms. You may then receive appropriate treatment to address the underlying cause. If left untreated, dysphagia may lead to weight loss, repeated lung infections, and coughing.

How to Prevent Coughing after Eating

  • Eat slowly and concentrate on the food in front of you, which means no phone or TV during meals
  • Keep track of your cough, as well as what you eat and when, so you can easily determine which foods trigger your cough
  • If you take any medications for acid reflux or asthma, take them regularly
  • Avoid eating during cough attacks
  • Take sips of water during meals to interrupt coughing

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes a cough after eating?

If you experience coughing after eating, there might be several causes including, asthma, food allergies, mild acid reflux, GERD, respiratory infections, dysphagia (difficult and painful swallowing), or you might simply aspirated food or liquid, which your body is now trying to expel via coughing.

When Should I See a Doctor?

A doctor examining a patient

Firstly, keep noting your symptoms. Most coughs resolve at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter medications. However, you should consult your doctor if you experience coughing after meals along with these symptoms:

  • Unknown cause of your cough
  • Frequent coughing after meals
  • Pink or blood-tinged mucus
  • Fever, nausea, vomiting
  • Worsening cough
  • Cough lasting longer than two weeks

Coughing after eating is pretty common. While some of these conditions can be chronic, you can take simple steps to reduce the symptoms and alleviate the discomfort. However, there may be a more serious underlying condition when the symptoms mentioned above come with the cough. 

Consult your physician if the cough continues for a long period. Your doctor will determine the cause of your coughs per your history. For instance, your doctor might ask you to do a barium swallow test to diagnose the issues of the upper gastrointestinal tract.

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    App is great at tracking cough when little ones are sick. I treat it as a early warning indicator before the cold gets back. Customer service is awesome, they actually respond to all my questions.
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    I had an issue logging into the new app but I contacted the support team and they were awesome in helping me figure out the issue. It turned out to be a technical issue which they resolved very quickly and I was kept in the loop on the status from start to finish. This app is really helpful when talking to my doctor too..
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    "The app accurately is recording my coughs with excellent ways to review the results. I can add notes to help me identify patterns or have accurate information for my physicians. I’ve hoped for an app like this for years to help me accurately track the amount of coughing I’m doing"
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  • Accurate count of coughs
    by Beardonna — Mar 8, 2023 - App Store

    Just installed the app. Very accurate measuring coughs so far! Cannot wait to see how much coughing I do while sleeping. I'll have a better picture to discuss with my physician at my next visit.

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