an old man is coughing and take his hands to cover mouth | Feature | Coughing After Eating | What Does It Mean?

Coughing is your body’s way of clearing obstructions from the airway. While there are a lot of causes of cough, coughing after eating is actually pretty common. Here are some of the most common reasons why you may be coughing after eating.

 Food Allergies

Coughing within two hours after eating may mean you have a food allergy. Although these usually start during childhood, you can still develop a food allergy at any age. It is also possible to get a food allergy to something you have been eating your whole life. The most common food allergens include:

  • Dairy
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts

Usually, your immune system can filter harmful from harmless substances. But when you have a food allergy, your immune system thinks it is dangerous. What happens is that it overreacts and mounts an attack against the allergen. This process is how it clears the substance from your body. In the process, you may experience the following symptoms of a food allergy:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose
  • Tingling or an itchy mouth
  • Hives

These symptoms usually occur soon after you eat. In severe allergic reactions, it is possible to develop anaphylaxis. This potentially life-threatening condition is rare but alarming. When anaphylaxis happens, your airway constricts, making it difficult to breathe. When this happens, you should call for help and consult your doctor immediately.

Most of the time, food allergy symptoms are usually mild. Nevertheless, knowing what you are allergic to will definitely help your doctor provide you with the best care. 

Acid Reflux and Related Conditions

In acid reflux, the acid in your stomach travels upwards through your esophagus. Since your esophagus is just a conduit for food to pass through and is not resistant to acids, it may get irritated. When this happens, you can develop a cough. Along with it, you may also feel a burning sensation in your chest and a bitter or sour taste in your mouth. If this cycle continues for long, it may point to a more severe condition.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a chronic form of acid reflux. Common symptoms of GERD include:

  • Excessive gas
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty swallowing

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is a condition similar to GERD. However, this time the acid may travel all the way up to the nasal passages. When this happens, you may experience nasal drip and hoarseness.

There is, unfortunately, no cure for these conditions, but here are some steps you can take to alleviate the discomfort and coughing:

  • Eat slower and chew food thoroughly before swallowing
  • Avoid triggering food such as coffee, citrus fruits, alcohol, fatty food, soft drinks
  • Consume smaller meals
  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day

Infections That Cause Coughing After Eating

Upper respiratory infections can also cause coughing. Sometimes, the cough may even persist long after your body has cleared the infection. The affected airway becomes more challenging to treat because the cough prevents healing. It also leads to further inflammation of your airway, further worsening the cough. When this happens, your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug to break this cycle. 

Other infections that viruses, bacteria, or fungi may cause can affect your windpipe and larynx. Conditions like strep throat and laryngitis are examples of these. They cause inflammation of the throat and coughing, especially after you eat. In terms of treatment, targeting the cause of the infection will usually relieve your cough as well.


Black woman using asthma spray | Asthma | Coughing After Eating | What Does It Mean?

Asthma is a common condition that causes coughing. It is usually worse at night, and food may exacerbate it. Common symptoms associated with asthma include coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. To reduce coughing, you should avoid foods containing irritating sulfites like:

  • Dried fruit
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Jam
  • Potato chips
  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Soft drinks

Food allergies can also worsen an asthma attack. Therefore, it pays to be aware of your triggers and consult your doctor on the proper medication and management.

Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia occurs when tiny particles like food get trapped in the airways. The lungs may have difficulty expelling these substances. Their extended stay where they are not supposed to be might enable a bacterial infection to take hold. People suffering from acid reflux or who have difficulty swallowing are at the highest risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. Aside from wheezing and coughing after eating, common symptoms of aspiration pneumonia include:

  • A fever that develops within an hour of eating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Congestion after eating or drinking
  • Fatigue or shortness of breath while eating
  • Painful swallowing
  • A burning sensation in the chest

Aspiration pneumonia is a severe condition that requires treatment. In severely compromised patients, this condition may be “silent” because they do not cough despite the pooling of substances in the airways. Without treatment, this can lead to lung abscesses or even respiratory failure. 


Dysphagia is a condition that leads to difficult and painful swallowing. Apart from this, you may also experience a sensation of food stuck in your throat. This leads to coughing or gagging while eating. Conditions such as acid reflux, esophageal cancer, or a head injury may cause dysphagia. Consult your doctor so you can better determine the underlying medical condition causing your symptoms. You may then receive appropriate treatment to address the underlying cause. If left untreated, dysphagia may lead to weight loss because it takes longer for food to reach your stomach. It can also cause repeated lung infections.

When should I see a doctor?

A girl have running nose and take her hands to cover her nose and mouth | Coughing After Eating | When to See a Doctor | Coughing After Eating | What Does It Mean?

Most coughs resolve at home with rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter medications. However, you should consult your doctor if you experience coughing after meals along with these symptoms:

  • Unknown cause of your cough
  • Frequent coughing after meals
  • Pink or blood-tinged mucus
  • Fever, nausea, vomiting
  • Worsening cough
  • Cough lasting longer than two weeks

Coughing after eating is pretty common. While some of these conditions can be chronic, you can take simple steps to reduce the symptoms and alleviate the discomfort. However, there may be a more serious underlying condition when the symptoms mentioned above come with the cough. Consult your physician if you have any concerns. Your doctor can help you determine the cause of your cough and prescribe the appropriate treatment for your condition. 

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