Smoothies are a popular choice for those seeking a quick and nutritious meal or snack.
Packed with fruits, vegetables, and other wholesome ingredients, they offer a convenient way to boost your daily intake of vitamins and minerals.
However, for some individuals, sipping on a smoothie can unexpectedly trigger coughing.
This peculiar reaction leaves many wondering why smoothies, which are generally considered healthy, can have such an unexpected side effect.
This article explains the most common reasons why your favorite smoothie is making you cough. Keep reading to learn how to stop this unwanted reflex.
Why Do Smoothies Make Me Cough?
Smoothies can cause coughing due to cold temperature or thick texture, which can irritate the throat. Ingredients like dairy products can increase mucus production, leading to coughing. If you have allergies to certain fruits or additives, this could also trigger a coughing response.
What is the Cough Reflex?
The cough reflex is a complex physiological action designed to protect the respiratory system. It’s an involuntary response that your body uses to clear the airways of irritants, secretions, foreign particles, or microbes.
Here’s how it works:
- Trigger: The cough reflex is initiated when receptors (nerve endings) located in the respiratory tract — including the throat, airways, or lungs — are stimulated. These receptors can be triggered by various stimuli, such as dust, smoke, mucus, foreign particles, or even sudden changes in air temperature.
- Signal Transmission: Once these receptors are stimulated, they send a signal to the cough center in the brain. This center is located in the medulla oblongata, a part of the brainstem.
- Cough Center Activation: The cough center processes these signals and, if a cough is deemed necessary, it sends signals back to various parts of the body to coordinate the cough.
- Muscle Coordination: The act of coughing involves several muscle groups. Initially, the diaphragm and chest muscles contract to create a high-pressure environment in the lungs. The vocal cords then close momentarily, increasing the pressure further.
- Cough Production: Finally, the vocal cords open suddenly, and the chest and abdominal muscles contract forcefully. This rapid muscle action expels air from the lungs at a high speed, effectively dislodging and expelling irritants from the airway.
The cough reflex is an essential part of the body’s defense mechanisms. It helps keep the airways clear and reduces the risk of infection by expelling potentially harmful substances.
However, excessive or chronic coughing may be a symptom of various medical conditions, such as respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or allergies, and it should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Reasons Why Smoothies Cause Coughing
Drinking smoothies can sometimes lead to coughing for a few reasons:
- Cold Temperature: Smoothies are usually cold, and for some people, consuming cold beverages can trigger a cough reflex or cause irritation in the throat.
- Acidic Fruits: Many smoothies contain acidic fruits like oranges, pineapples, or berries. These fruits can irritate the throat or esophagus, especially in individuals who have acid reflux or sensitive stomachs.
- Thick Consistency: The thick texture of smoothies might cause coughing as the body may treat it more like a solid than a liquid, leading to a different swallowing mechanism that could trigger a cough.
- Allergies or Sensitivities: Ingredients in smoothies, such as certain fruits, dairy products, or additives like nuts and seeds, might trigger allergic reactions or sensitivities in some individuals, leading to coughing.
- Dairy Products: If dairy products are used in smoothies, they can sometimes lead to an increase in mucus production in some people, which might cause coughing.
- Sweeteners or Additives: Artificial sweeteners or other additives in pre-made smoothie mixes might irritate the throat or trigger a cough in sensitive individuals.
- Existing Respiratory Conditions: For people with conditions like asthma, cold or thick beverages like smoothies can sometimes trigger a coughing fit.
- Throat Infections or Irritations: If there’s an existing throat irritation or infection, consuming a smoothie might exacerbate the discomfort and lead to coughing.
Note: These reasons may not apply to everyone and can vary based on individual health conditions and sensitivities. If coughing after consuming smoothies or any other food item is a regular occurrence, it may be advisable to consult a healthcare professional.
How to Stop Coughing When Drinking Smoothies
To reduce or prevent coughing when drinking smoothies, you can try the following strategies:
- Warm the Smoothie Slightly: If the smoothie’s cold temperature is causing a cough, try letting it sit at room temperature for a few minutes before drinking it or blend it with fewer frozen ingredients.
- Avoid Acidic Fruits: If acidic fruits like citrus or berries seem to trigger your cough, opt for less acidic fruits like bananas, apples, or melons in your smoothies.
- Adjust the Thickness: If the thickness is an issue, add more liquid (such as water, juice, or milk) to thin out the smoothie, making it easier to swallow.
- Identify and Avoid Allergens: If you suspect an allergy or sensitivity to any ingredient, try eliminating it from your smoothie to see if your symptoms improve.
- Limit or Substitute Dairy: If dairy products in smoothies cause mucus production and coughing, consider using non-dairy alternatives like almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk.
- Choose Natural Sweeteners: Replace artificial sweeteners or additives with natural ones like honey, maple syrup, or dates, which are less likely to irritate your throat.
- Sip Slowly: Drink your smoothie slowly and in small sips to prevent overwhelming your throat and cough reflex.
- Stay Hydrated: Drinking water before and after your smoothie can help cleanse your throat and reduce irritation.
- Use a Straw: Drinking through a straw can help bypass some of the sensitive areas in your mouth and throat that might be triggered by cold or thick liquids.
- Consult a Healthcare Professional: If you consistently cough when consuming smoothies or other foods, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional. They can help identify any underlying conditions like acid reflux, allergies, or asthma.
Note: These are general tips and might not work for everyone. Individual triggers and health conditions vary, so it’s important to understand your own body’s reactions.
FAQs About Coughing From Drinking Smoothies
Why Does My Throat Hurt When I Drink a Smoothie?
Throat pain after drinking a smoothie can be attributed to several factors. The cold temperature of the smoothie can irritate the throat, especially if you’re sensitive to cold foods or drinks.
Acidic fruits commonly used in smoothies, such as citrus or berries, can also irritate the throat lining.
If you have underlying conditions like acid reflux or esophagitis, smoothie ingredients might exacerbate these issues. Additionally, if the smoothie is particularly thick, the effort to swallow it might strain your throat.
Why Does Fruit Irritate My Throat?
Fruit can irritate your throat for a few reasons. Many fruits are acidic, like oranges, lemons, and pineapples, which can cause irritation in sensitive individuals or those with acid reflux.
Also, some people have a mild form of fruit allergy or oral allergy syndrome, where certain fruit proteins cause an allergic reaction when they come in contact with the mouth and throat.
This reaction is often mild and localized to the mouth and throat area.
Can I Be Allergic to Smoothies?
Yes, it’s possible to be allergic to ingredients commonly found in smoothies. Smoothies often contain fruits, nuts, dairy products, or additives, any of which can be allergens for certain individuals.
For example, you might be allergic to a specific fruit, lactose intolerant, or have a nut allergy.
If you experience symptoms like coughing, itching, swelling, or digestive upset after drinking a smoothie, it might indicate an allergy to one or more of its components.
It’s advisable to consult with a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and management.
Can Smoothies Trigger Asthma?
Smoothies can potentially trigger asthma in some individuals, though this is not common. The triggers can vary depending on individual sensitivities.
Cold beverages, like smoothies, can sometimes cause bronchial constriction in people with cold-induced asthma.
Also, if you’re allergic to any ingredients in the smoothie, such as certain fruits, nuts, or dairy products, this could trigger an allergic reaction, which in turn might exacerbate asthma symptoms.
Additionally, additives or preservatives in some commercially prepared smoothie mixes might be potential triggers.
It’s important for people with asthma to be aware of their specific triggers and to consult with a healthcare professional if they notice new or worsening symptoms.
Why is My Throat Itchy After Drinking a Smoothie?
An itchy throat after drinking a smoothie is often due to an allergic reaction to one or more of the ingredients.
This could be a mild form of a food allergy, known as oral allergy syndrome, where certain proteins in fruits or other smoothie ingredients cause an allergic reaction in the mouth and throat.
This reaction is often mild and localized, but it can be uncomfortable. Common culprits include certain fruits, nuts, or dairy products.
If you frequently experience an itchy throat after drinking smoothies, it might be helpful to identify and eliminate the specific ingredient causing the reaction.
For persistent or severe symptoms, seeking advice from a healthcare professional is recommended.
While smoothies are generally considered a nutritious and tasty beverage choice, they can occasionally trigger coughing in certain individuals.
The primary factors contributing to this response include the presence of cold temperatures, ingredients like ice and frozen fruits, and the potential for irritants such as pollen or allergens.
Understanding these factors can help individuals better enjoy their smoothies without the unwanted side effect of coughing.
Ultimately, staying informed and making minor adjustments to smoothie preparation can ensure a more enjoyable and cough-free experience for those who have experienced this peculiar reaction.
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.
- Andrani F, Aiello M, Bertorelli G, Crisafulli E, Chetta A. Cough, a vital reflex. mechanisms, determinants and measurements. Acta Biomed. 2019.