Foods to Avoid When Coughing: Preventing Aggravation and Discomfort

Picture this: you’re nestled on the sofa, cocooned in a blanket, besieged by a cough that feels like it’s shaking your very core. Each breath brings a fresh wave of throat irritation, and all you crave is relief. You reach for tea and biscuits, hoping to ease your sore throat. But did you know certain foods can worsen coughs? Yes, lurking in your kitchen are culprits that can heighten your misery. By understanding these cough-inducing foods and temporarily steering clear, you can soothe your throat, quell your cough, and feel yourself again sooner. Dive into this list of 20 foods to avoid when coughing, uncovering lesser-known irritants that might surprise you!

20 Foods to Avoid When Coughing

1. Dairy Products

Let’s start with a classic culprit – dairy products. Despite the appeal of a soothing bowl of creamy soup for a sore throat, dairy can ramp up mucus production, worsening congestion and irritation. It’s wise to avoid milk, cheese, and ice cream until your cough eases.

2. Fried Foods

Resist the lure of crispy fries; fried foods can stir up trouble when you’re coughing. These greasy delights can trigger acid reflux, worsening throat irritation and prolonging your cough. Choose healthier cooking methods like baking or grilling to ease discomfort and aid your recovery.

Foods to Avoid When Coughing

3. Spicy Foods

If you’re a fan of spicy curries and fiery dishes, think twice before indulging during a coughing bout. Spicy foods can irritate the throat lining, exacerbating inflammation and discomfort. Temporarily avoid spicy flavours and choose milder options to alleviate your symptoms.

4. Citrus Fruits

While oranges and grapefruits are renowned for their vitamin C, their acidity can exacerbate coughs, further irritating the throat. Opt for milder fruits such as bananas or apples to alleviate throat discomfort.

5. Carbonated Drinks

While fizzy cola may offer momentary relief, carbonated drinks can worsen cough symptoms over time. The bubbles in these beverages can irritate the throat, intensifying coughing fits. Stick to still beverages like water or herbal tea to soothe and hydrate your throat instead.

Foods to Avoid When Coughing

6. Caffeinated Beverages

A cup of coffee, often a favourite pick-me-up, can dehydrate the body due to caffeine, exacerbating cough symptoms. Additionally, caffeinated beverages can irritate the throat lining, heightening cough intensity. Opt for decaf or soothing herbal teas for relief instead.

7. Alcohol

Although a glass of wine might appear ideal for unwinding, alcohol can worsen cough symptoms by dehydrating the body and irritating the throat. It can also disrupt sleep quality, crucial for allowing the body to heal. Therefore, it’s best to abstain from alcohol until your cough subsides.

Foods to Avoid When Coughing

8. Chocolate

As much as we may hate to admit it, chocolate isn’t always the solution, particularly when dealing with a cough. Chocolate contains theobromine, a compound that can worsen cough symptoms by irritating the throat. So, as tempting as that chocolate bar may be, it’s advisable to resist until your cough improves.

Foods to Avoid When Coughing

9. Processed Foods

Packaged snacks and ready meals provide convenience but often harbour high levels of salt and preservatives, which can heighten inflammation and aggravate cough symptoms. Choose whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins to aid your body’s healing process instead.

Foods to Avoid When Coughing

10. Refined Sugars

We all love a sweet treat now and then, but refined sugars can wreak havoc on your immune system and exacerbate cough symptoms. These sugars can promote inflammation in the body, making it harder for your immune system to fight off infections. Instead, satisfy your sweet tooth with natural alternatives like honey or maple syrup.

Foods to Avoid When Coughing

11. Peanut Butter

Despite the dismay it may bring to peanut butter enthusiasts, this creamy spread can trigger coughs in some people. Peanut butter can coat the throat, causing scratchiness and worsening coughing fits. If you can’t part with your beloved PB, choose natural, unsweetened varieties instead.

12. Red Meat

While a juicy steak might be a tempting option, red meat can be hard for the body to digest, especially when you’re feeling under the weather. This can put added strain on your digestive system, diverting energy away from the healing process. Instead, opt for lighter protein sources like chicken or fish.

13. Processed Meats

Bacon, sausages, and deli meats might be convenient options, but they’re often high in salt and preservatives, which can exacerbate inflammation and worsen cough symptoms. Swap processed meats for fresh, unprocessed alternatives to support your body’s healing process.

Foods to Avoid When Coughing

14. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a staple ingredient in many dishes, but they can be a trigger for coughs in some individuals, especially when consumed in large quantities. The acidity of tomatoes can irritate the throat lining, exacerbating inflammation and discomfort. If you’re prone to coughing fits, it’s best to limit your intake of tomatoes and tomato-based products.

15. Pickles

Pickles, while adding a tangy kick to sandwiches, are often rich in salt and vinegar, which can worsen cough symptoms. The acidity of pickles can also irritate the throat lining, intensifying coughs. If you’re yearning for something tangy, choose fresh vegetables or homemade pickles with lower salt content instead.

16. Shellfish

As delicious as shellfish might be, they can be a trigger for coughs in some individuals, especially those with shellfish allergies. Shellfish can contain high levels of histamine, which can exacerbate inflammation and worsen cough symptoms. If you suspect that shellfish might be triggering your cough, it’s best to avoid them until your symptoms subside.

Foods to Avoid When Coughing

17. Spicy Condiments

From hot sauce to wasabi, spicy condiments can add a flavourful kick to your meals – but they can also exacerbate cough symptoms by irritating the throat lining. If you’re prone to coughing fits, it’s best to steer clear of spicy condiments and opt for milder alternatives instead.

18. Processed Cheese

That gooey slice of processed cheese might be a comfort food favourite, but it’s best avoided when you’re battling a cough. Processed cheese can be high in saturated fats and preservatives, which can exacerbate inflammation and worsen cough symptoms. Opt for natural cheese options or dairy-free alternatives instead.

19. Excessive Salt

Though a pinch of salt can enhance dish flavour, excessive intake harms health, particularly during coughing. It causes dehydration, worsening cough symptoms and hindering healing. Limit salt; use herbs and spices to season meals.

20. Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners might seem like a healthier alternative to sugar, but they can have adverse effects on your health, especially when you’re battling a cough. These sweeteners can disrupt gut health and weaken the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off infections. Stick to natural sweeteners like stevia or honey to satisfy your sweet tooth while supporting your body’s healing process.


  • Listen to your body: This list provides a general guideline, but it’s important to pay attention to how your body reacts to certain foods. If you notice a particular food worsens your cough, avoid it until you feel better.
  • Don’t neglect medical advice: If your cough is severe, lasts longer than two weeks, or is accompanied by other symptoms like fever or shortness of breath, consult a doctor. They can diagnose the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatment.


In conclusion, when battling a stubborn cough, your dietary choices can significantly impact your recovery. By avoiding foods that exacerbate cough symptoms—such as dairy products, spicy foods, and processed snacks—you give your body the best chance to heal and recover. Instead, opt for nourishing, easy-to-digest foods that support your immune system and soothe your throat. Remember, prevention is always better than cure. So, be mindful of your dietary choices, especially when feeling under the weather. By making small adjustments and steering clear of foods that aggravate cough symptoms, you can help alleviate discomfort and speed up the recovery process. So, the next time you find yourself reaching for that creamy milkshake or spicy curry when you’re coughing, think twice and opt for a healthier alternative instead. Your throat will thank you for it! Keep these tips in mind for a smoother recovery journey and when considering which foods to avoid when coughing.

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