Dr. David Wang at the Hospital for Special Surgery says you should not go running with a cough if you can’t stop cough. Read on to find out when it is okay to go running with a cough, and how to stop coughing.
‘Tis that time of year—when you hear the cacophony of coughing around you no matter where you go. And I am repeating myself a lot to my athletes—DO NOT GO RUNNING WITH A COUGH…if you are running and coughing almost constantly.
Should seem simple enough. But sometimes what triggers a cough can vary. And we want to run. So, we try to tell ourselves that it’s not the running making us cough. And we think, maybe it will stop after we warm up, or just get past the coughing fit.
Man, I have been there. I have learned the hard way. I have gone on runs where I was hacking up a lung almost the entire time. Not smart. Not only was I prolonging my cough, I wasn’t getting enough oxygen to my working muscles, so easy runs felt hard. And forget workouts.
But I felt fine otherwise. I was annoyed and pushed the envelope.
Runners are dedicated. To a fault, sometimes. So, I want to set the record straight on when you should go running with a cough, and when you should stay home and rest instead (or cross-train).
I got with Dr. David Wang at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York to answer when it is okay and when it is not okay to go running with a cough.
Table of contents
Reminder: I am not a doctor! Though I did consult with a doctor for this piece, if you have concerns, talk with your healthcare provider!
Related: How to Return to Running After COVID
Should you go running with a cough?
You should not go running with a cough if you find that running makes your cough worse. If you are coughing every minute or a couple of minutes, you are aggravating your symptoms and could be prolonging your recovery.
In general, you should not go running if you have below the neck symptoms. Since coughing involves your lungs and chest, it qualifies as a below the neck symptom. If you are hacking as you try to run (aka track hack) your body is telling you that you should stop running.
Related: Can You Run with Asthma?
When is it ok to run with a cough?
If you are running with a cough and the cough is sporadic—like maybe every mile or two, then you are likely not hurting your body or recovery while running.
In most cases, I tell my athletes I coach that it’s okay to run if your cough is going away—and getting better every day. It’s okay to run when most of their cold symptoms (such as headache, runny nose, head and chest congestion, sore throat, lethargy, body aches, and fever) are gone and energy levels are back to normal.
If they have a lingering cough beyond 10 days, I suggest they go see a doctor to make sure they don’t have a secondary infection like a sinus infection, pneumonia, or bronchitis.
Related: Can You Go Running with a Cold?
Why does my cough get worse when I run?
Running, especially outside in cold dry air, may irritate your airways and trigger something called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction also known as exercise-induced asthma.
- Coughing and wheezing
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
These symptoms usually begin 5-10 minutes after exercise. EIB symptom triggers include:
- Cold dry air
- Polluted air
- Seasonal allergies
- Respiratory tract infection
My husband now gets EIB every fall and winter following a nasty respiratory infection four years ago (which is what prompted me to search out info about asthma and running earlier this year to help him!).
Related: Can You Go Running with Allergies?
Why am I coughing so much but not sick?
If your cold is long gone but you are still coughing, especially a dry cough, you could suffer from EIB. In fact, up to 20 percent of people suffer from exercise-induced asthma
Up to 50 percent of elite athletes may suffer from EIB. Take heart, there are steps you can take to continue to run even with asthma symptoms that I will share below, according to Dr. Wang.
Can I run with bronchitis?
It is not recommended that you run with bronchitis if your cough becomes incessant while running. If your cough is dry and infrequent while running, you can begin your regular exercise program. But if it kicks up while running outside, you need to back off.
Okay, I know that is irritating. You just want to run! So, what can you do if you have a cough when running?
How to Stop a Cough So You Can Run
Below are steps you can take to control your cough while you run, according to Dr. Wang.
- Warm up indoors for 5-10 minutes before heading outside.
- Cool down after exercise, too.
- Cover your mouth with a buff or scarf, especially if the air is dry and cold.
- Avoid polluted air and areas where there are lots of allergens.
- If the air is especially cold or full of irritants, find access to a treadmill. Treadmills are invaluable tools for runners!
- If you are still coughing from an illness but feel fine otherwise, consider cross-training instead as a less intense exercise option.
- If your cough is lingering for several weeks or you suffer from frequent coughing attacks while running, talk to your doctor! They may be able to prescribe medication or an inhaler to help with symptoms.
Having trouble breathing can be scary! My husband now runs with a short-acting inhaler in case he has an attack. Seeking medical attention is always a good idea if you have a health concern like a chronic cough—especially if it is inhibiting your running!
How can you get rid of a cough fast?
If you are suffering from a cold, studies show that vitamin C and Zinc like in Zicam can help shorten colds.
Also, consider taking an immune supplement like Previnex’s Immune Health PLUS which I swear by. This supplement supports robust, healthy immune system responses through a dynamic process called priming, which supercharges your immune system’s ability to respond to, and neutralize various threats.
When my family got the flu last year, I was the ONLY one not to get hit hard. I feel certain it was because of this supplement! I almost always used to get what the kids had! Save 15 percent with code TMR15 plus a money-back guarantee.
If you want a custom training schedule to fit your running goals, including dealing with illness, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:
- Postpartum Training Plan
- After a Break Training Plan
- 5k Training Plans
- 10k Training Plans
- Half Marathon Training Plans
- Marathon Training Plans
- Strength Training Plan