A coughing fit can always break your post-run euphoria and that can be quite annoying. Have you ever wondered why you always start coughing after exercise, especially when you experience no discomfort during your workout? There can be a number of reasons why that happened. It could be anything from a health condition to simply exercising too strenuously. It is a good idea to consult your doctor if you experience any breathing difficulty after exercise.
What Causes Coughing After Exercise?
Exercise Induced Bronchoconstriction
If you have a coughing fit after exercise, this could be due to a condition called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). With this condition, the airways in your lungs swell and become narrow temporarily when you engage in strenuous physical activity. This increases your heartbeat and also causes shortness of breath with other problems such as wheezing and coughing. The condition is quite similar to asthma; in fact, EIB was initially known as exercise-induced asthma. The only difference is that things like mold, pollen, smoke, viruses, or pet dander do not trigger EIB. You get an attack only when you exercise.
If you start coughing afterexercise only when in cold weather, this may indicate that you do not have EIB but the cold, dry air is the cause of trouble. Many people experience breathing difficulties in cold weather and this often leads to high respiratory rate. As a result, spasms or contractions in the smooth muscles around the airways are likely to be triggered. These conditions may also cause production of mucous in the lining of the lung tubes that also tighten up the airways, causing wheezing, breathing difficulty, and coughing. This is usually called exercise associated bronchospasm or exercise asthma.
You may also experience wheezing during or soon after exercising due to vocal cord dysfunction. In this condition, the vocal cords come together during inspiration. This causes "stridor" on inspiration and you experience wheeze of asthma.
Viral infections can also cause breathing problems and leave you dealing with coughing after exercise. Similarly, some people cough after exercise because they are not in a very good physical shape or have exercised extremely hard.
How Is Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction Treated?
Once your doctor has established that you are suffering from exercised-induced bronchoconstriction, they will check the severity of the issue to select the most appropriate treatment option. They may prescribe drugs that you need to take before you start your workout or give you something to use on a long-term basis.
The most common treatment option includes taking drugs right before you exercise to minimize or prevent coughing after exercise. Be sure to ask your doctor about when you should take the medication before starting your workout routine.
- Short-acting beta agonists: You need to inhale them to open up clogged or swollen airways. They are quite effective pre-exercise medications, but should not be taken on daily basis. That is mainly because your body can develop a tolerance against its effect. The most common choices are levalbuterol, albuterol, and pirbuterol.
- Ipratropium: This inhaled medication helps relax your airways and works quite well for some sufferers. You can use a nebulizer when taking a generic version of Ipratropium.
Long-Term Control Medications
In addition to pre-exercise medications, you may also have to use other drugs for long-term control. These medications help manage underlying chronic asthma and other associated symptoms. You usually need to take these medications daily.
- Inhaled corticosteroid: You may have to take these drugs to control inflammation in your airways. Their effect will kick in after you take them for 2-4 weeks. The most common options include budesonide, fluticasone, beclomethasone, and mometasone.
- Combination inhalers: The inhalers contain a long-acting beta agonist as well as a corticosteroid. It is important to use them before you start your exercise, but they are also recommended for long-term control. Combination inhalers include budesonide and formoterol, fluticasone and salmeterol, and mometasone and formoterol.
- Leukoteriene modifiers: These are oral medications used to block inflammatory activity in your body. Your doctor may prescribe these drugs for daily use but sometimes they are used a preventive treatment and need to be taken a couple of hours before exercise. Common examples are zafirlukast, montelukast, and zileuton. These drugs may have some side effects, including mood changes, behavioral changes, and suicidal thoughts.
What Can I Do to Prevent Coughing After Exercise?
While medications definitely help, you can also take some measures to prevent coughing after you exercise. The following tips will help relieve symptoms of EIB:
- Spend at least 15 minutes doing warm up exercises. Be sure to prepare your body first for more intense physical activity.
- Use a facemask or scarf to cover your nose and mouth if you are exercising in cold weather.
- Avoid breathing through your mouth and inhale through nose to send warm air down your lungs.
- Take preventive measures when you have allergies and exercise indoor when pollen counts are high.
- Do not exercise hard if you have a respirator infection.
- Be sure to exercise regularly to promote good respiratory health.
- Change your choice of exercise to sports that are less likely to cause EIB symptoms, such as gymnastics, volleyball, golf, baseball, wrestling, football or others that require short bursts of activity. Swimming is also a good choice because the humidity and warmth from the water makes it easier for you to breathe.
When to See a Doctor
You should seek immediately medical help if your symptoms are becoming worse with time. See a doctor if you experience shortness of breath or notice your wheezing become worse. Consult with your doctor if prescription inhalers do not work.