Do you find yourself coughing after running? And is it normal to cough after running?
If you’re curious as to the cause of runner’s cough and wondering how to avoid, or at least minimize this problem, then keeping on reading!
In this article, we will discuss:
- 7 possible causes of runner’s cough
- 5 ways to prevent coughing after running
- When to seek medical advice for runner’s cough
Let’s get to it!
Why Do I Cough After Running? 7 reasons
Coughing during, or after, running may just be due to a single problem, or to a combination of various overlapping factors.
The following list of 7 reasons are the most common causes for coughing after running. Have a read and see if any of the following align with your runner’s cough.
#1 Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB)
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (sometimes referred to as exercise-induced asthma) is a common condition which involves the temporary narrowing of the airways in the lungs in response to an increased heart rate.
With the airways narrowed, it is more difficult to get air into the lungs, and coughing is the body’s response.
EIB can occur in the middle of a run, but is more typically noticed soon after a run or following short bursts of fast running.
Symptoms of this condition can include not only coughing, but shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, and a sense of decreased endurance, and the degree of seriousness can range from mild to severe.
#2 Seasonal Allergies
Depending on the time of year, the same pollen that triggers sneezing and a dripping nose in some, can also cause coughing after running, or even during your run.
The deep breaths you’re taking in while running bring increased pollen and mold spores into the airways of your lungs, causing irritation and a tickly cough.
#3 Postnasal Drip
If your cough tends to bring up phlegm and you notice you’re clearing your throat a lot or have a persistent sore throat, then you may have postnasal drip.
This condition, as the name implies, involves mucus dripping from the nose to the throat, prompting irritation and coughing. It can be triggered by a variety of factors, including the common cold, sinus infections, allergies, or even poor air quality.
#4 Acid Reflux
Coughing up phlegm can also be a sign of acid reflux, particularly if it is accompanied by a feeling that something is stuck in your throat.
This condition involves stomach acids rising up your esophagus and into your throat which can then cause irritation and coughing.
#5 Cold Weather
When this situation develops, you may have difficulty getting air into your lungs, similar to EIB. This difficulty can trigger coughing.
#6 Vocal Cord Dysfunction
Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD), which involves the abnormal closing of the vocal cords while breathing in and out, is less common than the other possible causes of runner’s cough, but it can also trigger coughing.
According to James Li, M.D., Ph.D., a board certified asthma and allergy specialist and professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic, VCD can be triggered by respiratory irritants, an upper respiratory infection, or exercising, but, unlike asthma, does not involve the lower airways and is not an immune system reaction.
You should suspect VCD if you have more difficulty breathing in than breathing out and if asthma medications have not been helpful.
#7 Common Cold
Although colds are not always associated with coughing, they do sometimes affect your lungs and result in coughing after running, or even during running.
The common cold is typically not just coughing in isolation, but it also includes a variety of other symptoms including:
- a blocked or runny nose
- a sore throat
- muscle aches
- a raised temperature
- pressure in your ears and face
- loss of taste and smell
5 ways to prevent Coughing After Running?
For coughing that is intermittent and fairly mild, consider the following preventative measures:
#1 Minimize cold exposure
If you notice you cough more after running in the cold, your lungs could be reacting to the cold, dry air. If this is the case, try running inside on a treadmill or indoor track when it is particularly cold, or at least schedule your run for the warmest time of the day.
If running in the cold is unavoidable, make sure to warm up slowly and gradually, so that your lungs can acclimate to the weather, and avoid pushing the pace at all when it is exceptionally cold.
Also try breathing through your nose or covering your face with a buff, scarf or mask, which will help warm the air before it gets to your lungs.
#2 Avoid running outside when the pollen count is high or the air quality is bad
If allergies or other irritants in the air seem to trigger your coughing, make a point to check the pollen count and air quality before heading out for a run. This information should be easily available via a quick online search, with the National Allergy Bureau’s website being particularly helpful.
With some trial and error, you should be able to figure out what levels of pollen or air quality you can tolerate and what levels you cannot, and when the conditions are not favorable, consider exercising indoors or moving your run to a more advantageous time.
It may also be helpful to know that, according to the American Lung Association, spring is the most problematic season for allergies for most people, so minimizing outdoor running during this season may be enough to avoid problems.
#3 Try medications or an inhaler
If you have already been diagnosed with asthma or EIB, you likely have an inhaler that may be useful in preventing or minimizing your cough if used shortly before you head out for your run.
Check with your treatment provider to determine whether this is a good option for you and, if so, when and how to use your inhaler so it will be most effective.
If you have allergies or postnasal drip, over-the-counter antihistamines or oral decongestants may be helpful, and if acid reflux is your problem, over-the-counter antacids, or acid reducers, may quell your symptoms and allow you to run cough-free.
#4 Avoid acid-causing foods
Additionally, if you think acid reflux may be the cause of your post-run cough, avoid foods that can trigger acid reflux — such as coffee, alcohol, citrus fruits, spicy food, onions, and tomatoes — particularly for at least several hours prior to running.
If you’ve gone through the above lists and settled on the fact that you’ve got a cold, this section is for you.
Getting a cold as a runner is irritating, and it can knock you back your training, but it doesn’t always have to. There are times when it is actually ok to run with a cold.
Should you run with a cold?
‘Above the neck’ is the golden rule that most runners apply to this decision.
If you have any symptoms in your chest, you should stay at home and rest.
But if you have mild cold symptoms in your nose, throat, or ears, you should be able to get out for a run. And doing so may even make you feel better.
If your symptoms are above the neck, then running may even help to relieve symptoms of a cold, including your cough.
When To Seek medical advice
If the above 5 simple steps do not help, consider consulting a doctor, particularly if your cough is becoming progressively worse or is more than a minor nuisance.
While running-related coughing typically does not signify a serious health issue, if it has been persistent, it is important to rule out the more worrisome possible causes and get an accurate diagnosis so you can take the appropriate steps for your condition.
If you can, track and record your symptoms with as much detail as possible, as doing so will help your doctor make an accurate assessment and treatment plan for you.
EIB and VCD, in particular, may require professional attention. Controlling EIB (or any type of asthma) may involve trying different inhalers and medications to find the most helpful combination, and VCD may require speech therapy to help you learn to relax your throat, breath with your abdomen, and keep your vocal folds open.
In general, though, a bit of post-run coughing is not uncommon or serious and should not stop you from running. Simply minimizing your exposure to cold and respiratory irritants, warming up slowly, and, if necessary, managing your symptoms with diet adjustments and medications may do the trick so that you can keep enjoying your runs.
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