Coughing After Eating

image001Coughing after eating can be caused by a variety of conditions. It is typically associated with an irritation in the air passageway that has led to a reflexive action as a result of a gastric or nervous disorder. Normal coughs may be an involuntary attempt to clear phlegm from the body. Cold foods may cause some people to cough when they are eating or drinking. If you develop a chronic cough after eating this could be a sign of a more serious issue which will need to be examined as soon as possible.

Causes of Coughing after Eating

1. Allergies and Infections

Those that are allergic to certain foods may experience coughing after ingesting them. Greasy, cold or spicy foods will commonly cause this reaction. Those that do not frequently consume these types of foods may trigger an immune response when eating these items, leading to a cough after eating. In some cases an infection in the esophagus or larynx can cause these organs to function abnormally, making it difficult to eat or drink properly, which can also lead to coughing or choking.

Treatment. If you determine that a specific food is causing a coughing reaction when consumed, avoid eating foods that contain this ingredient in the future. Choose dishes that are bland over those that are spicy if your body cannot handle this flavor profile. Those that are suffering from a temporary infection may need to visit their doctor for medication that can help clear away bacteria causing these symptoms.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is commonly referred to as acid reflux disease. This condition is caused by an abnormal functioning of the lower esophageal sphincter. If the sphincter is not functioning properly it will leak digestive juice from the stomach into the esophagus which may cause cough or an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest or throat.

Treatment. In early cases GERD can be managed with over the counter medications such as Mylanta, Tums, Maalox and other antacids. If these medications fail to provide relief after a few weeks your doctor may need to provide H-2 receptor blockers that will help to quell excessive acid production in the stomach. In more severe cases proton pump inhibitors can be prescribed to block stomach acid and surgery can be used to repair damage the acid may have caused in the esophagus.

3. Asthma

Asthma is caused by a chronic infection that leads to inflammation in your airways. Some patients managing this disease will experience coughing after they eat certain additives or foods.

Treatment. Those that suffer from asthma may need to avoid certain foods that can trigger cough including soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, wheat or milk. Your doctor will prescribe medications based on your symptoms, age and triggers, including bronchodilators for quick relief as well as medications such as leukotriene modifiers, theophylline, inhaled corticosteroids, combination inhalers or long-acting beta antagonists to manage long term symptoms.

4. Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia is inflammation of the airways and lungs that is caused by breathing in foreign materials such as vomit, liquids, fluid from the mouth or food. These materials will then enter the lungs which may cause swelling, inflammation, lung abscess or lung infection. Patients may notice wheezing, fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, cough that contains greenish sputum, sputum that includes blood or pus or phlegm that is foul smelling, chest pain or a bluish tint to the skin.

Treatment. Those suffering from this condition will be examined to check for rapid pulse, oxygen decrease or a crackling sound within the lungs. Scans such as an X-ray, CT scan or bronchoscopy may be necessary to diagnose aspiration pneumonia. Swallowing studies may be performed to check for a chronic problem. Antibiotics will be prescribed to help clear away infectious materials that have entered the lungs. Those with a severe infection may require hospitalization so they can be monitored constantly. Those that fail a swallowing function exam may need to follow alternative feeding methods to reduce the risk of a future infection.

5. Dysphagia

Dysphagia is a difficulty swallowing that may be caused by muscular complications, inflammation or a blockage in the throat. This condition is often described as a pressure or painful sensation in the chest that begins after eating. This is often accompanied by a cough.

Treatment. Imaging tests such as an endoscopy, oral-pharyngeal video wallow, laryngoscopy, esophageal manometry and barium swallow or upper GI series can be used to evaluate the condition of the throat, esophagus and mouth. In some cases, occupational or speech therapy will be recommended to allow patients to learn a more effective feeding technique for children suffering from this illness. Those with dysphagia often respond more effectively to thicker foods rather than liquids, so a change in diet may be necessary to avoid additional symptoms.

Preventions for Coughing after Eating

  • Get Plenty of Rest. Resting will allow the body to recover, allowing you to better address the irritant causing the cough.
  • Maintain Hydration. Staying hydrated will help to moisten the mucus membranes, soothing the throat. Sipping water or tea is helpful for keeping adequate moisture in the throat.
  • Inhale Moist Air. Taking a warm shower or inhaling steam can help to soothe airways that are inflamed or irritated. This will also help loosen mucus so it can be expelled more easily.
  • Avoid Smoking. Smoke from tobacco products will paralyze and destroy the cilia in the throat that are used to help move mucus up and out of the lungs which can increase coughing.
  • Eat Foods Slowly. Making an effort to chew and swallow carefully will help ensure that food particles are adequately broken down and will move into the stomach properly.
  • Keep Healthy Diets. Foods high in sugar may suppress the immune system for up to 5 hours after they have been consumed, increasing the risk of developing an infection.

When to See a Doctor

A cough is typically a sign that you are experiencing a medical problem, either because the body is attempting to expel an irritant or an organ in the chest area is not behaving the way it should. If you find that your cough is becoming worse it is vital to seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

  • Causes of idiopathic cough are still a mystery. Those with a persistent cough, especially women with a lower capsaicin threshold or those that have recently experienced an upper respiratory infection, may have received an inaccurate diagnosis when they last visited their doctor.
  • In some cases, comprehensive testing may still fail to reveal the source of the cough. This may be a sign that you are suffering from an autoimmune disease or lymphocytic airway inflammation, though this link has not been found to be definitive or consistent amongst patients.