Why a Cold-Weather Workout Can Make You Cough—and What to Do About It

Health's medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, explains why working out in the cold could make you cough.

Q: Sometimes after I finish a run outside on a cold day, I have a coughing fit. What’s up with that?

While winter workouts are great for some people, cold or dry air can trigger exercise-induced asthma (EIA) in others. EIA is a condition in which the small airways in the lungs swell, making it more difficult for air to pass through. Chilly weather can also spur cells to release histamine, a compound involved in allergic reactions that can lead to wheezing. Other signs of EIA include chest tightness and breathlessness; the symptoms usually go away 30 to 45 minutes after you’ve finished an intense workout.

When you have any respiratory troubles, make an appointment with your doc to get to the bottom of the problem. If tests show you do have EIA, she may prescribe an inhaler to use before winter workouts, or medication you can take daily. You might also try running with a scarf over your mouth and nose; that will help warm and humidify the air you’re breathing in, so it doesn’t irritate your airways. And don’t skimp on your warm-up and cooldown—the longer they are, the better.

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