7 Causes For Coughing After Running

Javeria Usmani

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July 18, 2022
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.

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Running is one of the most common choices when it comes to cardiovascular exercise. However, although there are many benefits to running, it often comes with bouts of coughing. If you ever wondered why you cough after running, or during exercise in general, several possible reasons will be discussed here.

Runners’ cough is pretty common among, regardless of your ability or fitness level. It happens to beginners, as well as seasoned runners. Coughing after running can also be accompanied by other symptoms, so make sure you note them and talk about them with your doctor if necessary. 

Here are some of the most common reasons for cough after running. 

Vocal Cord Dysfunction

Your vocal cords sit halfway down your neck and are part of your speaking system. During normal breathing, they should remain open and relaxed to allow air into your lungs. Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is an abnormality in the closing and opening of the cords, restricting airflow into and out of your lungs.  

VCD can occur due to different reasons and it can cause a cough after or while you are on a run. Reduction in the flow rate at which a human inhales (inspiratory airflow) is the cause behind this coughing. 

This is not the only outcome that comes with this disorder. You may experience other symptoms as well such as:

  • Noise while inhaling
  • Tightness of chest
  • Trouble inhaling
  • Suffocation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing sound

The symptoms are often mistaken for asthma but do not respond to asthma medications. If you have the symptoms listed above or other asthma-like symptoms that do not get better with treatment, discuss getting a laryngoscopy with your doctor – this is the best diagnostic tool for VCD.

Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction

Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB; previously known as exercise-induced asthma, EIA) is when your air passages constrict shortly after beginning exercise, making it harder to breathe. This can lead you to cough because it feels like something is blocking your airways. It is estimated that 5–20% of the general population has EIB (including elite athletes!), while 90% of those with asthma do.

Running is one of the triggers of EIB. You can experience EIB after exercise or other events requiring heavy after just 5 minutes. Time duration of subsequent coughing can vary and can the narrowing of your airways can last for 10–60 minutes.

One theory why EIB is that the air being inhaled is too dry and this causes a chain reaction leading to your body narrowing your airways in an attempt not to lose water. 

Therefore, prevention involves warming and humidifying the air you are breathing in to not trigger this reaction. This can include warming up before exercise, breathing through a face mask, and avoiding exercising in areas with high air pollution. Treatment for asthma suffers who experience EIB usually involves medication taken around 15 minutes prior and sometimes during the strenuous activity.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Acid reflux can be yet another cause of post-run coughing. 

Our stomach contains acids that help in the digestion of food. Sometimesthese acids reach our throat. This happens to everyone once in a while, but it is usually prevented by the valve at the top of the stomach. If this valve is weakened, due to e.g. obesity, pregnancy, or smoking, then this can develop into a chronic condition. Certain medications can also worsen it. 

Therefore, cough caused by GERD doesn't only happen while or after running, but it's actually a chronic condition. Running can cause stomach acid in the throat, even in healthy people. This is usually felt las heartburn but can also coughing. Therefore,, after running, you may encounter a sudden cough due to the irritation of the throat by the stomach acids. 

Eating too soon before or too much during running can worsen this – if you are running for less than an hour, try going without a pre-run snack; if you are running for more than an hour, time your pre-run fuel to be around 60–90 minutes before your run begins. If you still experience acid reflux/heartburn and/or coughing during or after your run, antacids can help.

Post-Nasal Drip

Temporary diseases related to our respiratory system, such as a sore throat, allergies, and common cold, can lead to post-nasal drip. It is a condition in which more mucus than usual runs down or is pooled at the back of your throat. This leads to a runny nose and contributes to increased sniffing and coughing. 

Running can worsen this production of mucus or sensitivity to it. Even runners without diagnosed post-nasal drip report runny noses during exercise.

You can treat post-nasal drip through antihistamines, nasal irrigation (e.g., neti pots), and humidifying the air you breath (e.g., with a home humidifier or by wearing a face mask).

Periodic Allergies

Man preparing to run

An outdoor run during spring can trigger tickling cough for people suffering from hay fever. If you find you cough more during certain times of year, when different plants release their pollen, seasonal allergies may be causing your runner’s cough. You can experience coughing while running and not just after it due to increase in pollen count.

Symptoms of pollen allergies are:

  • Headache
  • Irritation of eyes
  • Congestion of ear or sinus
  • Itchy sensation in throat and airways
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Post-nasal drip

If pollen allergies and hay fever cause you to cough after you run, home workouts or exercising inside a gym is preferably when the pollen count is high. You can also check the National Allergy Map to see how bad it is in your area and whether it may be better to post-pone your run. Additionally, antihistamines reduce your body’s response to pollen and daily ones can make hay fever season much better for you.

Common Cold

Common cold most often comes with some obvious symptoms such as;

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches
  • Body pain
  • Sore throat 
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Wet eyes
  • Post nasal drip

If you run when you have a cold, you are more likely to cough during and after it. As well as coughing being a symptom of the cold itself, the inflammation it causes makes it more difficult to breathe in a sufficient amount of air. 

Because the common cold is caused by viruses, it cannot be treated by antibiotics. Instead, you must support your immune system to defeat the infection itself. Treating the symptoms (e.g. fever, congestion, and cough) can help you get on with your life as best you can while waiting for the virus to be eradicated from your body. Exercise, including running, can temporarily suppress your immune system, so when you have a cold it may be best to simply rest and not run at all.

Cold And Dry Weather

During winters or a cold season, the air tends to be dryer. This is because colder air can hold less moisture, leading to low humidity conditions. Additionally, central heating use n winter can further reduce humdity because it causes the already-dry air to expand from heat, leading to more space between the water molecules in the air and so making the air feel even dryer. 

As discussed in the exercise-induced bronchodilation section above, if the air your breathe in is too dry then your body will constrict its airways because it fears losing too much water through osmosis to the dry air. Therefore, if you run under these circumstances, there are chances of coughing due to the dryness of the respiratory tract. 

Treating or preventing this form of cough mostly involves increasing the humidity of the air you are breathing. If you are running outside, wear a face mask or scarf over your mouth and nose. Additionally, try not to breathe through your mouth as the air reaching your lungs will not have been moistened by your nose. Finally, try a hot shower after running, as the high humidity will help ease the discomfort caused by running in the cold, dry air (and it will feel good!).

Is It Normal to Cough After Running?

A man resting after running

A cough can hit even a healthy person without any underlying disease after running, due to narrowing of airways for various reasons. It’s usually not a serious enough to worry about. 

Nevertheless, if accompanied with other symptoms it can signify that there’s something more going on than just a cough while running. If you are concerned about your cough, especially if it has been going on for more than eight weeks (or four weeks in a child), then you should visit your primary care physician.

Your health practitioner can diagnose the cause behind your runner’s cough. After examining you physically, your doctor may order specific tests to reach the diagnosis. Diagnostic tests may include spirometry, CT scan, diffusing capacity, lung capacity tests, and x-rays. 

Are There Remedies to Treat Cough After Running?

Your doctor can suggest the best-customized way to treat your condition. We have also suggested preventative techniques and treatments in each of the sections above. But until you have a specific diagnosis, you can try these methods to prevent runner’s cough:

  • Cover your face to avoid pollutants and increase humidity
  • Keep your inhaler with you 
  • Take OTC medicine to reduce symptoms like allergies or pain
  • Do not over-exhaust yourself
  • Run indoors when hit by a seasonal allergy
  • Avoid running or exercising with a cold
  • If running or exercising in the cold and dry season, wear a face covering, breathe through your nose, and have a warm shower afterwards

Takeaway

Coughing after running is not specifically a disease. It can be a simple response to air humidity or pollen. However, it can also be a symptom of an underlying condition.

Try the self-care remedies suggested in this article first to see if you can improve your post-run cough yourself. If it does not improve, then you will likely need your doctor’s help to access further diagnosis and treatment. You can track your cough frequency and confirm there is a pattern of coughing after running. This information can be easily shared with your doctor while you collaborate on your plan for getting rid of your runner’s cough.

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