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Why Do I Cough When I Take a Deep Breath?

Dr. Michelle Frank

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October 7, 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.

A woman taking a deep breath

A cough is a reflex action to a foreign invader of your respiratory tract, like dust. Under such circumstances, a cough can usually be dismissed. However, when a cough follows an infection, is persistent, or even occurs every time you take a deep breath, it might require more attention.

While it may not be something serious, there are diseases and other conditions that could elicit a cough during deep inhalation. This becomes especially important if your cough is chronic: that is, lasting for more than eight weeks. 

If you regularly cough after taking a deep breath, it is essential to have your physician take a look. 

What Happens When I Take A Deep Breath?

Your respiratory tract looks like a tree with the trachea and windpipe forming the base or initial parts of this tree. This is where the air moves into your lungs. This then divides into the branches which are the bronchi and bronchioles and finally into air sacs or alveoli. The exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place within these air sacs, which are intricately lined with blood vessels.

An essential part of the respiratory tract for breathing is the diaphragm and chest muscles. When you take a breath, your diaphragm muscle contracts and moves downwards, allowing your lungs to fill with air. Exhaling, conversely, involves the relaxation of the diaphragm, moving it upwards and pushing the air out.

A graph of respiratory system with parts labeled

During a deep breath, you are more actively controlling the movement of your diaphragm and are more mindful of the way air moves in and out of your lungs. You are also more aware of the movement of your ribs and related muscles as they move laterally and downward during deep inhalation and in the opposite direction when you exhale. 

Several benefits have been associated with deep breathing, including better exchange of gases, reduction of stress, lowering of heart rate, and decrease in blood pressure((Russo, M. A., Santarelli, D. M., & O'Rourke, D. (2017). The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe (Sheffield, England), 13(4), 298–309. https://doi.org/10.1183/20734735.009817)).

However, sometimes the way you take a deep breath might evoke a cough, due to the sudden rush of air, improper posture, or inhaling irritants. If you cough frequently or almost every time you take a deep breath, it requires further investigation.

What Are The Reasons Deep Breathing Makes Me Cough?

Coughing frequently after you take a deep breath can be linked to an underlying health and commonly a respiratory condition. The top ten possible health causes for coughing after a deep breath can include((Mahashur A. (2015). Chronic dry cough: Diagnostic and management approaches. Lung India: official organ of Indian Chest Society, 32(1), 44–49. https://doi.org/10.4103/0970-2113.148450)): 

1. Having a cold, flu, or another respiratory infection like pneumonia
2. Acute bronchitis
3. Asthma
4. Allergies
5. Smoker’s cough
6. Postnasal drip – now also called upper airway cough syndrome
7. Sinusitis or rhinitis
8. Lung or respiratory tract cancer
9. Heart failure
10. Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)

For each of these causes, cough can come along at any point. Coughing with a deep breath may be one of the signs indicating further investigation is required into any of these causes. 

In each of these cases, the constant irritation of the cough centers within your respiratory tract from an infection, consistent postnasal drip, or even reflux of gastric acid, triggers the cough reflex. There are cough centers present in the bronchial tree, and other areas such as the ear, sinuses around the nose, pleura (the membrane surrounding the lungs), diaphragm, pericardium (the sac containing the heart), and esophagus (food pipe)((Andrani, F., Aiello, M., Bertorelli, G., Crisafulli, E., & Chetta, A. (2019). Cough, a vital reflex. mechanisms, determinants, and measurements. Acta bio-medica : Atenei Parmensis, 89(4), 477–480. https://doi.org/10.23750/abm.v89i4.6182)).

For the causes listed above, other symptoms may also be documented along with a cough, such as fever, chest discomfort, sputum/mucus production, enlarged lymph nodes, and even weight loss. 

A Dry Cough After a Deep Breath 

A dry cough after a deep breath without any other associated symptoms can present a significant dilemma in narrowing down a cause. This is more so if the cough has lasted for more than eight weeks; globally, chronic cough has a 10% prevalence and has been documented as a leading contributor to negative quality of life((Arinze, J. T., de Roos, E. W., Karimi, L., Verhamme, K. M. C., Stricker, B. H., & Brusselle, G. G. (2020). Prevalence and incidence of, and risk factors for chronic cough in the adult population: the Rotterdam Study. ERJ open research, 6(2), 00300-2019. https://doi.org/10.1183/23120541.00300-2019)). For many cases of chronic cough, sourcing a cause may not always be easy. 

For example, heightened sensitivity in the nerves of cough receptors can be linked to an idiopathic cough((Chung, K. F., McGarvey, L., Song, W. J., Chang, A. B., Lai, K., Canning, B. J., Birring, S. S., Smith, J. A., & Mazzone, S. B. (2022). Cough hypersensitivity and chronic cough. Nature reviews. Disease primers, 8(1), 45. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41572-022-00370-w)) – that is, a cough without any noticeable stimuli. Thermal, mechanical, or chemical exposure can be associated with idiopathic cough. In such cases, patients may record incidents of being stressed, talking or singing too much, or even inhaling cold air as an inciting cause for the coughing spell((Song, W. J., & Morice, A. H. (2017). Cough Hypersensitivity Syndrome: A Few More Steps Forward. Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research, 9(5), 394–402. https://doi.org/10.4168/aair.2017.9.5.394)).

Studies have also indicated that taking a deep breath in itself can elicit a cough. This has been hypothesized to be due to the same increased sensitivity in cough center or cough receptor nerves as cough hypersensitivity((Koskela, H. O., Nurmi, H. M., & Song, W. J. (2021). Deep Inspiration-Provoked Cough: A Sign of Cough Reflex Arc Hypersensitivity. Lung, 199(5), 501–505. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00408-021-00476-0)). Therefore, simply the difference in temperature between the inside of the body and the air breathed in can be enough to trigger a cough.

When Should I Seek Medical Help?

As soon as you notice a frequent cough every time you take a deep breath, consider checking in with a doctor. During the first few episodes, it would also be ideal to start tracking your cough and any associated symptoms.

Most coughs should subside on their own in a few days to a week with simple supportive care and over-the-counter anti-cough medicine. However, when it does not and either persists or worsens, seek medical assistance.

During your medical visit, your doctor will ask you pertinent questions related to any potential exposure to infection, recent travel history, and any medications you are taking (drugs like ACE inhibitors are possible causes for recent onset cough)((Shim, J. S., Song, W. J., & Morice, A. H. (2020). Drug-Induced Cough. Physiological Research, 69(Suppl 1), S81–S92. https://doi.org/10.33549/physiolres.934406)).

A doctor examining a patient

Your doctor will do routine checkups such as listening to your chest and documenting your temperature, pulse rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. Based on these and any other symptoms you report, plus how long your cough has lasted, they will recommend specific diagnostic tests to source out a cause for your cough.

Following your diagnosis, your doctor can recommend treatment based on the underlying causes. Some cases, when there is no underlying cause that we can find, benefit from alternative treatment options such as behavioral cough suppression therapy((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)).

Bottom Line

On some occasions taking a deep breath may elicit a cough due to the inhalation of a foreign irritant. However, such episodes ideally subside on their own. 

Frequent episodes of coughing following a deep breath require medical attention. Infection, lung conditions, cancer, and even neurological hypersensitivity of the cough centers can be responsible for coughing following deep inhalation. When coupled with other symptoms it should prompt diagnostic investigation to be able to narrow down a possible cause. 

Early diagnosis can help prevent cough progression and also improve quality of life, especially among chronic coughers.

Your Cough Matters

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Based on our results in Google Play & App Store
  • Excellent, insightful
    By dust mite dan - Apr 7, 2023 - App Store
    This app is easy to use, aesthetically pleasing and has provided me with useful information about my cough and disease patterns that have improved my overall health!

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  • Great app!
    by Imtfx0019 — Dec 6, 2022 - App Store
    Impressed with how well it detected my coughs, even very slight ones.
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  • App is Great!
    by HBert Quach — Jan 22, 2023, - Google Play
    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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  • Great Experience
    by Christi Hammock — Mar 7, 2023, - Google Play

    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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  • Impressive app
    By KayakTina - Apr 7, 2023 - App Store
    "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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