Causes of Coughing After Eating Illustration

The 12+ Causes of Coughing After Eating (2024)

by | Updated: May 2, 2024

Coughing after eating is an experience that many individuals encounter, often leaving them puzzled about its cause.

This phenomenon isn’t just incidental; it may be indicative of underlying health issues or physiological responses.

This article explores the potential reasons behind post-meal coughing, shedding light on its triggers and offering insight into when it might be a cause for concern.

Why Do I Cough After I Eat?

Coughing after eating could be due to several reasons. It may be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, irritating it. Overeating or eating too quickly can also lead to coughing. Additionally, food allergies or sensitivities can trigger a cough after eating, as can inhaling food particles.

Person coughing after eating food vector illustration

Causes of Coughing After Eating

Coughing after eating can be triggered by various factors, each stemming from different underlying conditions or habits.

Some of the most common examples include:

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) GERD occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, leading to irritation and coughing. Meals, especially those high in fats and acids, can exacerbate this condition.
  • Aspiration: Inhaling food particles or liquids into the airways can cause coughing. This is common when eating too quickly or not chewing food properly.
  • Food Allergies or Sensitivities: Certain foods can trigger allergic reactions in some individuals, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or throat irritation.
  • Postnasal Drip: Overproduction of mucus due to allergies or infections can lead to postnasal drip, causing irritation in the throat and subsequent coughing after eating.
  • Overeating: Consuming large amounts of food may put pressure on the diaphragm and lead to cough reflex stimulation.
  • Esophageal Strictures: Narrowing of the esophagus can make swallowing difficult and induce coughing. It can be due to scarring, inflammation, or tumors.
  • Laryngopharyngeal Reflux: This occurs when stomach acid reaches the throat and voice box, leading to irritation and coughing, often following meals.
  • Medication Side Effects: Some medications, particularly ACE inhibitors used for blood pressure control, can have a side effect of coughing, which may be noticeable after eating.
  • Dysphagia: Difficulty swallowing due to conditions like stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or muscular disorders can lead to coughing as the body attempts to clear the airway.
  • Environmental Irritants: Exposure to irritants like smoke or strong odors during meals can trigger coughing in some individuals.
  • Zenker’s Diverticulum: This is a pouch that can form at the junction of the pharynx and esophagus, causing difficulty swallowing and often leading to coughing after eating.
  • Esophageal Cancer: Though rare, one of the symptoms of esophageal cancer can be coughing, especially when swallowing or after meals.

Note: Each cause of coughing after eating requires different management and intervention approaches. Therefore, identifying the underlying cause is crucial in managing the symptoms effectively.

How to Prevent Coughing After Eating

Preventing coughing after eating involves addressing the underlying causes and modifying certain lifestyle and eating habits.

Here are several strategies to prevent post-meal coughing:

  • Eat Slowly and Chew Properly: Taking time to eat and chewing food thoroughly can prevent aspiration and facilitate smoother digestion, reducing the risk of coughing.
  • Manage GERD: Avoiding trigger foods, eating smaller meals, not lying down immediately after eating, and using medications like antacids can help manage GERD symptoms, including coughing.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking water throughout the meal can aid in swallowing and help prevent irritation in the throat that can lead to coughing.
  • Avoid Overeating: Consuming smaller, more frequent meals can prevent overeating, reducing pressure on the diaphragm and the likelihood of coughing.
  • Identify and Avoid Allergens: Recognizing and avoiding foods that one is allergic or sensitive to can help prevent allergic reactions and resultant coughing.
  • Manage Postnasal Drip: Using antihistamines or decongestants can manage postnasal drip, reducing throat irritation and subsequent coughing after eating.
  • Avoid Environmental Irritants: Staying away from smoke, strong odors, or other irritants during meals can help prevent coughing triggered by these factors.
  • Maintain Optimal Humidity: Using a humidifier can maintain optimal humidity levels and prevent throat dryness and irritation, reducing the risk of coughing.
  • Elevate the Head While Sleeping: Raising the head of the bed can prevent the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, mitigating GERD-related coughing.
  • Quit Smoking: Smoking can irritate the throat and increase the risk of GERD and coughing, so quitting is crucial for prevention.
  • Seek Medical Advice: For persistent or severe coughing after eating, consulting a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment is essential.

Note: Implementing these strategies can help in reducing the incidence of coughing after eating, contributing to a more comfortable and enjoyable eating experience. Keep in mind that persistent or troubling symptoms should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Home Remedies for Coughing After Eating

Utilizing home remedies can alleviate coughing after eating due to mild underlying causes. However, persistent symptoms should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Here are some home remedies to consider:

  • Honey and Lemon: Mixing honey and lemon in hot water can soothe the throat and relieve coughing due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Stay Hydrated: Consuming plenty of fluids helps keep the throat moist and prevents irritation leading to coughing.
  • Herbal Teas: Drinking herbal teas like chamomile or ginger can have a soothing effect on the throat, reducing inflammation.
  • Gargling Saltwater: Regular gargling with warm salt water can alleviate throat irritation and inflammation and help in removing mucus.
  • Peppermint Oil: Inhaling steam with a few drops of peppermint oil can open nasal passages and soothe an irritated throat.
  • Elevating the Head: Elevating the head using pillows can prevent stomach acid from entering the esophagus, thus mitigating GERD-related coughing.
  • Avoiding Irritants: Steering clear of smoke, strong odors, and other irritants during meals can assist in avoiding coughing episodes.
  • Using a Humidifier: Maintaining an optimal level of humidity using a humidifier can prevent the throat from becoming dry and irritated.
  • Ginger: Chewing on ginger or sipping ginger tea can provide relief to the throat owing to its anti-inflammatory attributes.
  • Smaller, Balanced Meals: Eating smaller, balanced meals can avert overeating and decrease the risk of GERD and subsequent coughing.
  • Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Keeping a healthy weight can reduce pressure on the stomach and diminish GERD symptoms.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Consuming a diluted mixture of apple cider vinegar and water before meals can help in balancing stomach acid levels.

Remember: Home remedies can offer relief from occasional, mild coughing after eating, but they are not a substitute for professional medical advice and treatment for persistent or severe symptoms.

FAQs About Coughing After Eating

What Triggers a Coughing Fit After Eating?

A coughing fit after eating can be triggered by various factors, including GERD, where stomach acid irritates the esophagus; aspiration, where food particles enter the airways; food allergies or sensitivities; overeating; environmental irritants like smoke; or postnasal drip.

Note: Identifying the specific trigger is essential for effective management and prevention.

What is a GERD Cough?

A GERD cough is a persistent cough caused by the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus due to Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

This acid reflux irritates the lining of the esophagus, triggering a coughing reflex.

A GERD cough is often chronic, occurring mainly after eating or at night, and may be associated with other symptoms like heartburn and a sour taste in the mouth.

How Do Doctors Diagnose the Cause of Coughing After Eating?

Doctors diagnose the cause of coughing after eating through a detailed medical history and physical examination to assess symptoms and identify potential triggers.

They may also recommend tests such as chest X-rays, pulmonary function tests, allergy tests, barium swallow studies, or endoscopies to visualize the esophagus and stomach.

These evaluations help identify the underlying condition causing the cough while guiding appropriate treatment.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Coughing After Eating?

Chronic coughing after eating can lead to complications such as throat irritation, muscle strain, fatigue, and disrupted sleep.

Additionally, if the underlying cause is GERD, it can result in damage to the esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, and an increased risk of esophageal cancer.

Persistent coughing also requires a thorough evaluation to rule out serious respiratory or gastrointestinal conditions.

Why Do I Have Mucus in My Throat After Eating?

Mucus in the throat after eating can be due to postnasal drip, where excess mucus from the nasal passages drips down the throat, often triggered by spicy or cold foods.

Additionally, GERD can promote mucus production as a protective mechanism against stomach acid.

Certain food sensitivities or allergies can also cause excessive mucus production in response to the ingested allergen.

When Should You Be Concerned if You’re Coughing After Eating?

Concern is warranted if coughing after eating is persistent, worsening, or accompanied by other symptoms like weight loss, difficulty swallowing, blood in sputum, or chest pain.

It’s essential to seek medical attention in such cases to determine the underlying cause, whether it be an allergy, infection, GERD, or another condition, and to receive appropriate treatment and management.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the reasons behind coughing after eating can be crucial not only for alleviating the symptom but also for recognizing potential health concerns.

Whether it’s a simple reflex, aspiration, GERD, or another condition, identifying the cause can guide appropriate interventions.

If you experience persistent coughing after meals, consulting a healthcare professional can provide a tailored approach to address the underlying cause and ensure optimal well-being.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.

References

  • Francis DO. Chronic Cough and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2016.
  • Butler LM, Koh WP, Lee HP, Tseng M, Yu MC, London SJ; Singapore Chinese Health Study. Prospective study of dietary patterns and persistent cough with phlegm among Chinese Singaporeans. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2006.

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