Blog
coughing after running outside

Coughing After Running: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Coughing after running is a common ailment that plagues many athletes and casual runners alike. Whilst some may consider coughing to be a simple side effect of a long workout, there may be more to it and if you repeatedly suffer from this you may need immediate medical attention. 

This article will cover the primary causes of coughing after running, whilst also offering our guidance when it comes to preventions and treatments. We’ve also answered some of the more common questions when it comes to coughing after running.

So, if you’re concerned about your coughing, or are simply curious about your tickly throat, read on to learn more about coughing after running!

Contents

But if you feel as though you’re already confident in your cardio, or you’re a squatting superhero, then perhaps a career in exercise is your next step. 

OriGym’s formally accredited personal training courses offer a comprehensive program to fully qualify you for your future career in fitness. Or, if you’d like more information, download our thorough prospectus and find out what’s right for you!

What Causes Coughing After Running?

coughing after running outside

Many of you reading this article may have experienced a coughing fit after running. Whether this is a recent development or it has been occurring frequently following your workout routine, it must be taken seriously. You should be actively listening to your body and questioning: what causes coughing after running

Whilst there may be nothing to worry about and the coughing could merely be a result of allergies or other external factors, developing a consistent cough after running could also be an indicator that you suffer from a form of bronchoconstriction.

In this section we will breakdown each one of these causes and will discuss how they can affect your body in different ways. Each of these causes vary in severity but have the same potential outcome of causing a coughing fit after a run. 

#1 - Seasonal Allergies

coughing after running in cold weather

If you suffer from seasonal allergies such as hay fever, you may also suffer from a tickly cough after running outside during spring time.

During this season, when the pollen count is high, many runners report that coughing doesn’t just affect them post-run, but that they’re also coughing while running too. The American Lung Association has even labelled spring as the most harmful season for allergy and asthma sufferers.

If you want to avoid sneezing, running and coughing your way through the springtime, here are a few useful tips that we can provide.

  • Always check the pollen count before leaving the house. On days when the count is lower you should be able to comfortably exercise outside, without your allergies giving you too much bother.
  • If the pollen count is too high consider exercising indoors. Head to the gym or use your own treadmill (our list of the best treadmills to get you in shape has some fantastic options!). Do your best to stay inside whenever possible.
  • If you just can’t stand the sight of the gym and hate the thought of the treadmill, take an antihistamine of your choice. 


#2 - Post-Nasal Drip

coughing during running

Are you wheezing and coughing after running in the cold? Are you coughing up phlegm after running? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then your cough could be caused by post-nasal drip.

Post-nasal drip is triggered by the common cold, allergies, irritants in the air as well as sinus infections. It occurs when a stream of mucus drips down from the nose and into the throat, which will cause irritation and eventually develop into a cough.

If you are coughing up phlegm after running, it is probably due to the fact you’ve been running outside in excess. We would recommend that if you’re suffering from post-nasal drip to stay inside whenever possible, to avoid worsening the cough.

#3 - Acid Reflux

heavy coughing after running

Coughing up mucus after running can also be a sign that you suffer from acid reflux, this is medically referred to as laryngopharyngeal.

If you suffer from laryngopharyngeal or any other kind of acid reflux, the acids in your stomach will churn up in your throat when you’re exercising, which is why you may begin coughing up mucus after running. 

We can recommend taking the following steps, in order to avoid an onset of coughing and build up of mucus. Go to your local pharmacy and ask for an over the counter acid reduction medication. If the over counter medication is having little to no effect, then contact your local GP for further advice.

The night before your run, you can try to avoid foods which are known to cause acid reflux. A few examples of foods that can cause acid reflux are:

  • Mint
  • Citrus Fruits
  • Onions 
  • Coffee

But if you're looking for foods to that are beneficial before a run, OriGym's report on the best foods for energy has a wide range of choice.

#4 - Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB)

coughing while running

If you suffer from no previous medical conditions, but still find yourself heavy coughing after running then you may suffer from exercise induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). 

Director of the Ohio State University Multidisciplinary cough program, Jonathan Parsons, M.D. explains EIB in basic terms, by stating that it is a temporary restriction of the airways. Parsons continues that EIB causes wheezing and coughing after running, due to the fact it is harder to get air through these airways and into the lungs. 

EIB was formerly regarded as a type of asthma and was initially dubbed ‘exercise induced asthma’. However, unlike asthma which can be triggered by a variety of causes such as perfume, mold, pollen and pets, EIB is triggered by exercising whilst breathing in cold dry air. 

EIB is actually a lot more common than you might think, it is estimated that EIB affects 8-20% of the general population, who suffer from no previous medical conditions. These numbers increase to 40-90% in those who suffer from other asthmatic related conditions. A 2009 Ohio State University study found that over 40% of athletes who partook in the research were unaware that they suffered from EIB and were not receiving treatment because of this.

Likewise, a further study found that 20-60% of Olympic athletes also suffer from EIB, most of whom are also unaware that they have it. The “invisible” nature of this issue is perhaps what makes it most important to be able to identify and understand. 

EIB is hard to spot and can have serious consequences to your respiratory system, so it is so important that if you are continuously wheezing and coughing after running to look into this further. Although there are numerous benefits of cardio & aerobic exercise, it's equally vital to keep an eye out for the negatives, too.

Later in this article we will also cover some of the causes of EBI, the symptoms you can be on the lookout for and what treatment you can recieve. 

#5 - Running in the Cold Weather

keep coughing after running

If you find yourself coughing after running in the cold, there is a reason for that. When you run outside in cold weather you’re going to breathe in air that is drier than what is already in your body. 

This is because cold air usually contains less moisture than warm air, so breathing a significant amount of cold air can dehydrate air passageways, causing them to narrow and not allow much air to pass through. According to research from a 2018 study by the National Library of Medicine, cold/dry air reduces also the levels of heat and water within the lungs. This will in turn create a rough dry cough.

The notion that cold weather can cause heavy coughing after running and other forms of exercise, is supported by the same 2018 study which found that winter athletes such as snowboarders and skiers are likely to develop respiratory issues. This particular study found that winter athletes were more likely to develop bronchoconstriction, as a result of hypothermia damage to the airways which is created by cold air.

So if you find yourself coughing after running in cold weather, it may be the result of environmental factors. However if you continue running in the cold weather, you are opening yourself up to other more severe respiratory issues. 

Not to mention it's important to keep warm and stay warm - our selection of the best fleece lined leggings has options for all tastes and budgets.

#6 - Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD)

chest pain and coughing after running

Vocal cord dysfunction can also cause you to cough during running and other forms of exercise. Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) occurs when the airways around the vocal cords tighten and do not open as they should. 

The symptoms of VCD are as followed:

  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Tightness of Throat 
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Hoarse Voice
  • Voice Changes 

Whilst VCD and EIB do share some similar symptoms and medical traits, the two are considered to be different conditions that are triggered by the same stimulant but in different ways. The two conditions are also often misdiagnosed in place of each other, with the misdiagnosis being caught during the treatment phase. 

Much like EIB VCD is also very easy to miss, a study in 2001 found that 12% of active military personnel suffered from VCD and were unaware of their medical condition. 

However, a noticeable difference between the two conditions is that VCD occurs during exercise. You will find yourself coughing while running if you suffer from VCD - this is because exercise is the stimulant that triggers the condition. In comparison, EIB occurs following exercise, and if you suffer from EIB you’ll find yourself coughing after running outdoors. 

Being aware of what your body needs and how it's affected by exercise is vital - we performed a comprehensive investigation into the importance of rest days and how many you need.

How Much Running Can Cause These Issues? 

coughing up mucus after running

If you suffer from any of the conditions we have mentioned above, then any amount of running could cause a coughing fit to occur. As we have discussed, certain conditions such as EIB and VCD are more severe than the likes of seasonal allergies. For the safety of others, we at OriGym also felt that it’s important to note just how much exercise can trigger these conditions.

EIB

As we have already discussed, EIB can cause a coughing fit after running. You may be thinking to yourself that this occurs after long distance running or a particular fast/hard workout session. 

But in reality, it only takes up to 10-15 minutes of exercise to trigger the disorder says the Ohio State University Multidisciplinary Cough Program. 

If you find yourself coughing a lot after running, sprinting or swimming please ensure that you halt all activity and take a rest, as during particularly intense workouts EIB can be incredibly dangerous.

A 2012 piece of research shows that the effects of EIB usually begin to lessen after 30-90 minutes. Use this period to relax and regain your composure, ensure you take several deep before deciding to move your body again, in this state it is very easy to become panicked. Please ensure that you remain calm as you attempt to regain your regular breathing pattern, further stress could provoke an increase in your shortness of breath.

 

VCD

Research has shown that VCD can occur at an even faster rate than EIB. A 2016 study found that VCD symptoms such as developing a cough after running hard, could begin to strike after just 3-9 minutes of exercise. 

Now, VCD is somewhat difficult to diagnose because, unlike EIB, the attacks and symptoms don’t last for long periods of time - they are quick but just as serious. This is supported by the findings of this 2008 investigative study which showed that VCD attacks could last for a little as 1-2 minutes

If you keep coughing during running or any form of exercise for that matter, but then find that you regain your composure and breathing pattern rather quickly then you may suffer from VCD. 

How Do I Know It’s Running That’s Causing My Cough?

coughing after running hard

If you often find yourself suffering from chest pain and coughing after running you may be wondering how to know if it is running causing said issues, rather than another factor such as illness or allergies. 

When it comes to the triggers such as pollen allergies, it is very easy to assume you will develop symptoms such as a chesty cough after running outdoors. Likewise, if you can feel yourself producing phlegm, it’s easy to assume that running whilst suffering from post-nasal drip to be the cause of your coughing fits. 

However, as we have previously mentioned both VCD and EIB are difficult to diagnose, so the short answer is that sadly you can’t know if coughing a lot after running is down to one of these conditions. A great option is to keep your lungs healthy using some of the best foods for lung health.

This is because many of the symptoms are non-specific, coughing, hoarse voice and wheezing are symptoms of many other existing conditions, so it is initially difficult to pin point either VCD or EIB without the assistance of a medically trained professional such as an allergist. 

One way to assume that running is the cause of your coughing attacks is to listen to your own body, as you know your body better than anyone. If you know that you don’t have any pre-existing allergies such as hayfever you can rule that cause out, likewise if you haven’t been producing mucus you can rule that out too. If you continue to find yourself heavy coughing after running then there may be a more serious medical issue at play.

What we can take away from this section is that running can trigger coughing, whether you develop a cough after running in the cold or whether you have a heavy cough after running due to VCD or EIB. Running can cause coughing for a variety of reasons, but exercise is often always a trigger for coughing. 

How Do I Diagnose Conditions Relating to Running and Coughing?

wheezing and coughing after running in cold

If you are reading this article and wanting to know how to stop coughing after running, the first step in addressing any of the conditions mentioned above is diagnosis. Getting a professional diagnosis will allow you to treat your condition accordingly and will hopefully decrease the likelihood of chest pain and coughing after running. 

Whilst some of these conditions such as pollen allergy and acid reflux are easy to self diagnose, as we have previously mentioned both VCD and EIB are very tricky to diagnose. In this section we will walk you through the diagnostic process for both of these conditions, before moving on to talk about potential treatments for all of the aforementioned conditions within the next section.


VCD

coughing up phlegm after running

As we have previously discussed, outbursts of VCD are fast and passing, a person with VCD may experience breathing issues for several minutes after running or exercise however they will be asymptomatic throughout their usual everyday life. 

If individuals who suffer from VCD attempt to get diagnosed during an asymptomatic period, then they could potentially not be diagnosed with anything at all or in 22% of cases are misdiagnosed with asthma. 

A 2010 study found that when attempting to diagnose VCD then doctors and allergists alike should be on the lookout for these three key factors: 

  • Known clinical symptoms of VCD (that we have previously discussed)
  • Laryngoscopic evidence
  • Spirometry evidence 

If you fit any one of these three criteria then the likelihood is that VCD is causing cough after running hard.

But what are laryngoscopic and spirometry tests? We’ll break them down for you right now.

The spirometry test is used to see how much air you can inhale, as well as how much and how fast you can exhale air. This test will involve a piece of medical equipment which requires you to blow through a tube, a machine will then measure and record how long both your inhale and exhale lasted for. 

As stated above, during asymptomatic periods of a person's life it is hard to get direct evidence that they are suffering from VCD. This too relates to the spirometry test, which if done during an asymptomatic period will not accurately capture the passage of air during VCD attacks. 

However, the spirometry test is sometimes paired with exercise in front of the medical specialist be it running on a treadmill or using a stationary exercise bike. This is done in order to see exactly how your airways are affected by the trigger of exercise, if your vocal cords begin to expand then the spirometry test will pick up on this. 

A laryngoscopy is known as the gold standard for VCD test, the process involves fitting a camera down into the throat in order to get a close look at your vocal folds and glottis. If these folds are inflamed or swollen, then it will give an allergist direct proof that the vocal cords are blocking the passage of air and are causing you to have coughing attacks. 

If you continue to suffer from conditions such as a chesty cough after running and are considering being tested for VCD, it is important to be aware of both of these tests. A laryngoscopy is considered to be the most effective way of diagnosing VCD, however the procedure is considerably more complicated than that of a spirometry test. Depending on what allergist or doctor you visit, they may recommend either/or both of these tests in order to gain conclusive results.

EIB

coughing after running in cold

If you keep coughing after running and other forms of general exercise and believe you are suffering from EIB, here is what you can expect from the diagnosis process.

When you go to an allergist and inform them you believe you are inflicted with EIB, they’ll ask you a series of questions relating to both your and your family's medical history. This is done to see whether there is a history of asthma or any other respiratory issues within your family, that could have been passed down.

The allergist will continue the diagnostic process in a similar way to the VCD testing, which also traditionally involves the spirometry test. The EIB diagnostic process will also require you to exercise in front of the allergist in order to see if your respiratory system responds accordingly, however with the EIB test the allergist will investigate multiple triggers rather just focusing on the effects of exercise. 

An article published in a 2011 edition of The American Family Physician walks the reader though these various different triggers, all of which focus on the environmental cause of EIB. One of these tests is known as the field based exercise challenge, in which the allergist will ask the patient to run in an environment which may trigger a reaction, such as coughing after running outside. The weather condition will be recorded, and a spirometry test will be taken both before and after the field based challenge, in order to see the effects weather can have on breathing. 

Another test which is used to see if weather can have an effect on EIB is what is known as Eucapnic voluntary hyperpnea test. If you have ever developed a cough after running in cold weather, then this is the test you may receive but only at your consent. This diagnostic system requires you to voluntarily hyperventilate with a mixture of cold and dry air. Much like the field based challenge a spirometry test will be taken both before and after the test in order to see if EIB has been triggered by the cold. 

Both EIB and VCD do have similar diagnostic systems, and a natural concern may be one getting confused for the other and being misdiagnosed. However, this is why it is important to keep track of all your symptoms before you visit a specialist, if you can tell the specialist when you seem to be short of breath and for how long these intervals last for, it will aid them in accurately diagnosing the respiratory issue that’s plaguing you.

How Can I Prevent and Treat Coughing After Running?

coughing a lot after running

There are plenty of ways to both treat and prevent the multiple conditions we have discussed, which may be the explanation as to why you keep coughing after running. We will break these prevention and treatments down into individual subsections, as we did for the possible causes section at the beginning of the article.


#1 - Seasonal Allergies 

We have already discussed some precautions to take if you suffer from seasonal allergies. This one of the easier conditions that can be treated, if you find yourself suffering from allergies relating to pollen remember to take the following actions.

  • Always check the pollen count before leaving the house. On days when the count is lower you should be able to comfortably exercise outside, without your allergies giving you too much bother.
  • If the pollen count is too high, consider exercising indoors. Head to the gym (learn more in our ultimate guide to gym etiquette) or use your own treadmill.
  • If you just can’t stand the sight of the gym and hate the thought of the treadmill, take an antihistamine of your choice.

#2 - Acid Reflux

As previously discussed acid reflux can be triggered by eating specific foods the night before you run. If you’re looking into how to stop coughing after running, eating these specific foods can have a positive affect on your body. The following foods will aid in the reduction of acid reflux:

  • Oatmeal 
  • Ginger 
  • Vegetables
  • Lean Meats 
  • Sea Food
  • Egg Whites

OriGym have also compiled a wide selection of metabolism boosting foods which can be hugely useful in combating acid reflux.

#3 - Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction

how to stop coughing after running

EIB can be treated with two medications that are also used to treat individuals who suffer from asthma. These medications are called Short-acting inhaled beta2-agonists and Long-acting inhaled beta2-agonists, both of which are taken via an inhaler but may also be available in tablet form. 

  • Short-acting inhaled beta2-agonists usually stop symptoms such as a tickly cough after running right away. These can be taken 15-20 minutes prior to exercise and studies have shown that they can stop symptoms of EIB for 2-3 hours. 
  • Long-acting inhaled beta2-agonists can be taken 30-60 minutes prior to exercising and are known to stop symptoms of EIB for 10-12 hours. 

Inhaled methods of treating EIB may take up to 2-4 weeks before you feel the maximum benefit. They work by helping to relieve the swelling and inflammation of the bronchial tubes.

If you are a trained athlete, you will need to check with your governing bodies before taking any asthma medication, they may also be able to refer you to a professional who will aid you in finding out which medication will work best for you within your chosen sport.

The reason it is important to disclose your medication is because in some sports beta2-agonists may be flagged as performance enhancers. So if you need to take the medication make sure you inform the correct people to gain medical exemption.

If you wish to treat EIB in other ways that don’t involve medication you can also try the following:

  • Ensure that you are properly warmed up. We recommend gently exercising for around 15-20 minutes, or performing some beneficial flexibility training movements, before entering into intense exercise. This will allow your body to become acclimated to a breathing pattern, whilst preparing it for more strenuous exercise.
  • Try breathing through your nose when you exercise. This will warm the air before going into your lungs.
  • Wear a scarf or mask around your face when exercising in cold weather.

#4 - Vocal Cord Dysfunction

coughing fit after running

VCD on the other hand is treated in a way which you may not expect, because VCD is not treated with medication, but rather with speech therapy. 

When you receive speech therapy for VCD, a specially trained speech-language pathologist will teach you exercises and techniques which reduce the symptoms of VCD. This is achieved by the pathologist guiding you through vocal exercises to reduce throat strain, as well as finding your optimum pitch and volume for speaking. 

Improving your voice is an effective treatment of VCD as it will not only allow you to speak more clearly, it can reduce the irritation within your throat as well as shortness of breath. This form of speech therapy is also built upon with breathing techniques, such as relaxed-throat breathing and lower-abdominal breathing strategies. 

These breathing techniques ensure that your upper airways and voice box are relaxed and open up for easier breathing. The pathologist will also aim to teach you about VCD triggers, and will inform you how you can control and respond to your specific triggers. 

When Should I See A Doctor About Coughing After Running?

coughing after running in the cold

As we have discussed, causes such as post-nasal drip and seasonal allergies are manageable on your own, but if you have been seeing any symptoms of EIB or VCD over a prolonged period of time, make an appointment and request to be referred to a specialist. 

Likewise, if you’re showing other symptoms not related to either EIB or VCD such as high fever and heart palpitations, you should contact your Doctor immediately. Heart health is critically important, and one of the key components of fitness.

Is Coughing Up Blood After Running Related To EIB Or VCD?

chesty cough after running

If you are coughing up blood after running you may be suffering from a condition called Pulmonary Edema. Like EIB and VCD it is regarded as an issue with the respiratory system, it occurs after long periods of exercise when fluids are pushed into the lungs.

There is a chance that red blood cells can enter this fluid and be coughed up following exercise, but unlike EIB or VCD, Pulmonary Edema will not affect your breathing pattern.

However, if you ever find yourself coughing up blood that’s dark and contains bits of food, it may be coming from your digestive system. Both of these conditions warrant a trip to the doctor, so make sure you take quick action to address the issue relating to blood. 

Can You Have Asthma As Well As Other Respiratory Issues Such As EIB And VCD?

running and coughing

The short answer is yes, you can have asthma as well as EIB or VCD.

As we’ve already discussed, EIB was once considered to be a form of asthma and many of the ways to treat EIB are the same methods used to treat asthma. Additionally, EIB can be present in an estimated 90% of asthmatic individuals, who’s symptoms may be missed or disregarded as an  asthma attack.

Additionally, someone can also suffer from VCD and asthma at the same time too. However, unlike EIB, VCD is not treated in the same way as asthma so if you suffer from both VCD and asthma you may need two different forms of treatment, such as an inhaler as well as vocal coaching. 

Before You Go!

We hope that you have found this guide beneficial, and that we’ve explained some of the causes behind coughing after running. We aimed to provide some answers, and may have even helped you figure out the cause of your coughing. 

However, we’ve touched upon some serious medical conditions within this article, so if you feel you suffer from any of them please take your time to investigate the condition further and take medical action to gain treatment. Fitness is our passion, but we would always encourage prioritising your own health.

But if you’re feeling fit and well, and are looking to take your exercise enthusiasm to the next level, then one of our REPS and CIMSPA personal training courses could be exactly what you’re looking for. 

Download our FREE comprehensive prospectus today, and read more about what we offer, how it could be right for you, and exactly where a career in fitness can take you!

References

  1. Jonathan P P, John G M. (2009) Exercise-induced asthma, PubMed. 
  2. R. Saranz, G.S Del G, V.H Croce, S.R. Del G. (2004) Exercise-Induced Asthma: An Update, European Journal of inflammation.
  3. Maria D’A, Antonio MGiovanna C, Lorenzo C, Isabella Annesi-M and Gennaro D’A. (2018) The impact of cold on the respiratory tract and its consequences to respiratory health. PubMed.
  4. A H B , M R Simon. (2001) Wheezing and vocal cord dysfunction mimicking asthma. PubMed.
  5. Jonathan P. P, Teal S. H, John G. M, David A. K, Kenneth W. R, James H. H, William W. S, John M. W, Fern M. C, Kevin C. W, and Sandra D. A. (2012) An Official American Thoracic Society Clinical Practice Guideline: Exercise-induced Bronchoconstriction. American Thoracic Society Documents.
  6. Ola Drange Rø PHD, John-Helge H MD, PhD, Hege C MD, PhD, Maria V MD, PhD, Thomas H MD, PhD. (2016) Exercise inducible laryngeal obstruction: diagnostics and management. PubMed.

Written by James Bickerstaff

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

James holds a BA (Hons) in Creative Writing and Film Studies and has recently gained a MA degree in Film, both of which he attained from Liverpool John Moores University. After taking up the couch to 5K challenge on a whim, James found a new passion for running, which he combines with his love for healthy cooking and writing. All of this led him to becoming a copywriter for OriGym.  

When he is not writing content for the site, James can be found researching new recipes, writing music reviews, reading and watching latest film releases.   

Recommended Posts

Download Your FREE 16 Week Half Marathon Training Programme

Download Your FREE 16 Week Half Marathon Training Programme