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Why Do I Cough When I Laugh Explained

Dr. Michelle Frank

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December 4, 2023
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.

After being deep into a good laugh, you might notice it finishes off with a bout of coughing. While it can slightly dampen the light mood, paying closer attention to the cough lingering after a hearty laugh can provide some clues of underlying health conditions that are often overlooked.

This article will highlight reasons why you might cough after a laugh and point out a few ways in which you can reduce the cough.

How Are Laughing and Coughing Linked?

Both your natural coughing reflex and any laugh-related cough can be traced back to the same reflex pathway.

Coughing occurs as a natural response to an irritant entering your respiratory pathway. When the foreign substance stimulates the receptors present there, they trigger a cough to expel the foreign particle1

When you laugh, especially a consistent loud, hearty laugh, your diaphragm contracts to cause forceful rushes of air out of your lungs. The air travels through a passage that comes in contact with cough receptors. Therefore, continuous stimulation during a laugh can result in a cough as the forceful bouts of air are perceived as an irritant needing to be coughed out.

Those who have a previous cough-related medical condition, such as asthma, postnasal drip/upper airway cough syndrome, or GERD, may have more sensitive cough receptors, leading to more frequent bouts of coughing during an episode of laughter2.

What Causes a Cough When I Laugh?

Reflex Cough Reaction

A common reason why you cough after laughing is because of the forceful movement of air out of the lungs by the diaphragm3. This air triggers the cough receptors in your throat. A cough following a laugh is rare and more frequently observed following a deep and persistent laughing session. However, if you notice recurrent coughing episodes after a laugh, consider checking in with your doctor.

Respiratory Tract Infections 

Coughing is a common symptom of many respiratory tract infections. If you are currently experiencing any other respiratory tract infection, such as the flu, you are more likely to cough after a fit of laughter. Cough receptors are particularly sensitive during an infection, increasing the likelihood of frequent coughing spells, which can occur after an infectious laugh4.

Asthma

The respiratory tract of anyone with asthma is highly sensitive. This is due to the repeated bouts of inflammation and airway constriction during each episode of asthma. Asthmatic symptoms can result from a vast array of triggers, which can include environmental allergens, irritants such as vigorous exercise or cold air, and even emotional changes such as those that may also prompt laughing5. Wheezing, shortness of breath, and a cough are frequent signs of an episode of asthma, which can sometimes be noticed along with a laughing spell in a person who has asthma.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD)

During a deep hearty laugh, your diaphragm contracts forcefully to expel air. This may also influence the movement of stomach acid up into the esophagus. For anyone with GERD, the sphincter which controls the movement of gastric acid is already working suboptimally, making acid reflux more likely during an episode of laughter. So, along with the rush of air, the movement of stomach acid can increase the chances of coughing while laughing6. For those with GERD, as we have just seen with asthma, cough receptors are more sensitive due to repeated stimulation, which can make coughing appear more frequently while you laugh.

Postnasal Drip/Upper Airway Cough Syndrome

With postnasal drip, now known as upper airway cough syndrome, there is a continuous trickle of nasal mucus and fluid into the back of your throat, where your cough receptors are present. One of the most common signs of a postnasal drip is a chronic cough7. Since the cough receptors are already sensitized through repetitive exposure to the nasal mucus, you might observe coughing at frequent intervals when you laugh as the movement of air is both an additional stimulus and may move the mucus around, making it even more of an irritant. 

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Those who live with COPD conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, have a persistent cough as one of their primary symptoms8. COPD results in the long-term narrowing and inflammation of the respiratory tract. This causes a buildup of mucus, which is the trigger for the persistent cough in COPD.

A laughing spell when you have COPD can result in the movement of mucus closer to the cough receptors, provoking repeated coughing spells while you laugh. Nevertheless, preliminary research has shown smiling and laughing can temporarily reduce hyperinflation of the lungs, as well as making you feel better9.

Lifestyle Influences

There are several ways in which our day-to-day activities can influence the frequency of or trigger a cough after laughing. For one, smokers are more likely to cough generally throughout their day10. Similarly, those living in more polluted cities tend to cough more regularly, due to exposure to the smoke and pollutants in their environment11. Being surrounded by allergens, such as pet dander, dust mites or even specific fragrances can trigger a cough after laughing as you will inhale a lot of them during the laughter. Any of these factors can increase your likelihood of repeatedly coughing after a good laugh. 

How Do I Treat A Cough When I Laugh?

Coughing while laughing, under normal circumstances, occurs infrequently and is nothing to worry about. Only during those deep, belly-aching spells of laughter, you may find yourself choking or coughing, and it should pass once you get your breath back.

However, if you do notice yourself coughing frequently while laughing, consider checking in with your physician. Identifying possible medical conditions can help to tackle the source of the cough. 

Meanwhile, here are a few things you can do to reduce how often you cough while laughing.

1. Staying Hydrated

Coughing when laughing can occur more frequently when you have a dry throat. This means your cough receptors are already aggravated, which worsens when you laugh. Keeping your throat moist helps to reduce coughing episodes.

2. Make Some Lifestyle Changes

If you smoke, consider quitting. Even if you have only been smoking for a short while, the irritants in cigarette smoke can cause coughing spells, and laughing can increase these further. Additionally, if you have GERD, eat smaller meals and avoid overeating to reduce the likelihood of gastric reflux. This article explains some dietary changes to improve GERD. Additionally following a generally healthy lifestyle, with regular aerobic exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep can provide a natural boost to your immune system,

3. Avoid Known Irritants

Exposure to smoke, dust, pet dander, pollutants, and pollen can result in more frequent episodes of coughing when you laugh. Identify triggers of your cough by tracking when and how often you cough, and try to avoid them. 

4. Add a Humidifier to Your Room

Continuous exposure to dry air can dry out your nasal and respiratory passages; a dry throat is prone to coughing episodes. A humidifier can help moisten the air you inhale and so lessen the chances of coughing when you laugh.

5. Cough Suppressants

Unless you notice yourself coughing regularly, it is not advised to take any over-the-counter medications for a cough associated with a laugh. Ideally, if you are coughing regularly, consulting your physician should be the first step. Opt for home remedies such as warm fluids or adding honey to warm beverages to tackle the occasional cough.

6. Consider Cough Physical Therapy

If you have a chronic cough that frequently appears during a hearty laugh, consider talking to your doctor about physical cough suppression therapy. For those with a nagging cough without a particular identified source, cough suppression therapy has been shown to provide positive results, reducing cough frequency12

Wrapping Up

Coughing after a hearty laugh is a universal phenomenon, and many of us have memories attached to those moments of joy. However, coughing regularly when you laugh can indicate an underlying medical condition requiring further attention. Consider checking in with your healthcare professional if you have a persistent cough when you laugh. Adding healthier lifestyle choices, staying hydrated, and investing in a humidifier might be simple ways to improve a cough when you laugh.

  1. Polverino, M., Polverino, F., Fasolino, M., Andò, F., Alfieri, A., & De Blasio, F. (2012). Anatomy and neuro-pathophysiology of the cough reflex arc. Multidisciplinary respiratory medicine, 7(1), 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/2049-6958-7-5[]
  2. Al-Biltagi, M., Bediwy, A. S., & Saeed, N. K. (2022). Cough as a neurological sign: What a clinician should know. World journal of critical care medicine, 11(3), 115–128. https://doi.org/10.5492/wjccm.v11.i3.115[]
  3. Svebak S. (2016). Consequences of Laughter Upon Trunk Compression and Cortical Activation: Linear and Polynomial Relations. Europe's journal of psychology, 12(3), 456–472. https://doi.org/10.5964/ejop.v12i3.1102[]
  4. Dicpinigaitis P. V. (2014). Effect of viral upper respiratory tract infection on cough reflex sensitivity. Journal of thoracic disease, 6(Suppl 7), S708–S711. https://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2013.12.02[]
  5. Leahy, C., & Leahy, B. (2012, September 1–5). A comparison of the frequency of cough with laughter in asthmatic and non-asthmatic patients [Conference Presentation]. European Respiratory Journal 22nd Annual Congress, Vienna, Austria. https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/40/Suppl_56/163[]
  6. Clarke D. E. (2015). No laughing matter. The Permanente journal, 19(1), 94–95. https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/14-128[]
  7. Macedo, P., Saleh, H., Torrego, A., Arbery, J., MacKay, I., Durham, S. R., & Chung, K. F. (2009). Postnasal drip and chronic cough: An open interventional study. Respiratory medicine, 103(11), 1700–1705. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rmed.2009.05.005[]
  8. Smith, J., & Woodcock, A. (2006). Cough and its importance in COPD. International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 1(3), 305–314. https://doi.org/10.2147/copd.2006.1.3.305[]
  9. Brutsche, M. H., Grossman, P., Müller, R. E., Wiegand, J., Pello, Baty, F., & Ruch, W. (2008). Impact of laughter on air trapping in severe chronic obstructive lung disease. International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 3(1), 185–192. https://doi.org/10.2147/copd.s2204[]
  10. Sitkauskiene, B., & Dicpinigaitis, P. V. (2010). Effect of smoking on cough reflex sensitivity in humans. Lung, 188 Suppl 1, S29–S32. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00408-009-9188-9[]
  11. Jo, E. J., & Song, W. J. (2019). Environmental triggers for chronic cough. Asia Pacific allergy, 9(2), e16. https://doi.org/10.5415/apallergy.2019.9.e16[]
  12. Chamberlain, S., Garrod, R., & Birring, S. S. (2013). Cough suppression therapy: does it work?. Pulmonary pharmacology & therapeutics, 26(5), 524–527. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pupt.2013.03.012[]

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