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Coughing After Eating With Lung Cancer: Causes and Management

Medically reviewed by Richard LoCicero, M.D.
Written by Sarah Winfrey
Posted on April 15, 2024

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may find that you suddenly pay more attention to every cough. Along with shortness of breath and chest pain, coughing — even coughing up blood — is a common symptom of lung cancer. However, it may be especially worrisome if it happens after every meal.

Because a lack of appetite and weight loss are already problems for many people living with lung cancer, coughing or anything else that makes it harder to eat can seriously affect your quality of life. If you or your loved one is coughing after meals, here’s what you should know.

What Happens When You Cough After Eating With Lung Cancer?

At least 60 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer experience a loss of appetite and significant weight loss, among other lung cancer symptoms. If you’re coughing after you eat, particularly when you’ve only had a few bites, it can make these problems worse. Anything that makes it harder to eat a nutritious diet should be taken seriously and discussed with your oncology team.

Some members of MyLungCancerTeam have reported that coughing interferes with their mealtimes. One said, “I have had an issue with coughing since surgery. I’ve tried all the prescribed medication, and it just makes me sick. I can’t keep any food down.“ Coughing that triggers vomiting not only makes it hard to eat but hard to keep anything in your stomach.

Sometimes, coughing with lung cancer can be associated with problems swallowing, which can also make eating difficult. If you’re having difficulty swallowing, talk to your doctor. They can help identify the cause and treat it appropriately.

What Can Cause Coughing After Eating?

Coughing after eating can be caused by many factors, some of which may be associated with lung cancer, and some of which are unrelated. Coughing after meals can be triggered by:

  • Allergies
  • Too much mucus
  • Asthma
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Bronchitis or another infection in your respiratory system
  • Swallowing problems
  • Accidentally inhaling food

Members of MyLungCancerTeam have reported coughing after eating triggered by some of these situations. One shared, “Hubby has a cough. The doctor prescribed a nasal spray to deal with the sinus drainage that was causing it.”

Some lung cancer treatments can also raise the risk of coughing, which may be triggered by eating. These include immunotherapy, radiation therapy, or some chemotherapy medications. “I have a mild but chronic cough from radiation treatment,” explained one member of MyLungCancerTeam.

How To Manage Coughing After Eating

If you’re struggling with a persistent cough that starts after you eat, these tips might help:

  • Drink a warm beverage with honey.
  • Avoid spicy foods.
  • Eat while sitting up straight.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Treat underlying conditions.

Drink a Warm Beverage With Honey

Honey can help a cough. Experts recommend drinking it with warm water, as one MyLungCancerTeam member did. “I get some relief from hot honey water with lemon,” they said.

Some members find it works better when they combine honey and tea instead. “I’ve found drinking green tea with ginger and putting two teaspoons of honey in it helps,” someone explained.

Avoid Spicy Foods

Coughing after eating may happen when inflamed areas are irritated by hot or acidic foods. This reaction can also be triggered by cold, spicy, or even overly dry foods, leading to discomfort and the urge to cough as your body attempts to protect sensitive tissues. Knowing which foods make your cough worse can help you avoid them and cut down on coughing after eating.

Keep note of when you cough. If it happens more when you eat certain foods, avoid those. Pay attention to hot or sour foods, which may be the culprits.

Eat While Sitting Up Straight

Sometimes, changing your body posture can help soothe your cough. Make sure you sit up straight while you eat. This may not eliminate your coughing, but it can be part of your approach to reduce the amount you cough after you eat. It may be helpful if you are coughing up a lot of phlegm because it can help you cough more efficiently.

Drink Plenty of Water, Especially While Eating

Staying hydrated can help your cough more than you think. Drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day. It may take several days to see if this will make any difference in your cough. You can also take sips of water after every bite when you’re eating — it can help reduce the severity of your coughing.

Take Your Time

Eating slowly may help you cough less after eating. This strategy may help prevent irritation from food as it slides down your throat and help you swallow better if you are struggling with that. Take the time to chew every bite and swallow it completely before you take another one. Drinking water between bites may help you time your eating better, too.

Treat Underlying Conditions

If you and your doctor determine that you have GERD, allergies, a respiratory infection, or excessive mucus, they can likely prescribe something that will help. Finding the right treatment can help reduce or eliminate your cough.

One MyLungCancerTeam member found that treating GERD helped. “I got back to eating a normal diet, got meds for the GERD, and regained some strength,” they shared.

When To Talk to Your Doctor

If your cough isn’t controlled by cough suppressants or other steps suggested by your cancer care team, reach out to them again. If you have a new cough, or if your cough suddenly starts interfering with sleep or mealtimes, talk to your doctor right away. They should be able to work with you to come up with treatment options to make your cough manageable and prevent mealtime disruptions.

Find Your Team

MyLungCancerTeam is the social network for people with lung cancer. On MyLungCancerTeam, more than 12,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lung cancer.

Do you cough after you eat since your lung cancer diagnosis? Has anything helped to control mealtime coughing? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on April 15, 2024
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    Richard LoCicero, M.D. has a private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology at the Longstreet Clinic Cancer Center, in Gainesville, Georgia. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
    Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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