What It Means When Drinking Water Makes You Cough

Although drinking water is a routine act that we often take for granted, sometimes it just goes down the wrong pipe. But if you notice that you're coughing or even choking frequently when you sip on some H20, you might start to feel concerned. Coughing while drinking water is a common phenomenon that can result from several factors, both harmless and potentially concerning. 

One of the primary factors that contribute to coughing while drinking water is a swallowing disorder, which can indicate an underlying health issue. Other factors that can cause coughing while drinking water include inhaling tiny water droplets accidentally, which can irritate the lungs, or something else causing a tickle in your throat that is aggravated by your beverage. By being aware of potential causes that contribute to coughing while drinking water, you can take the necessary precautions to protect yourself from choking and decide whether you might require medical attention.

Dysphagia symptoms and treatments

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), dysphagia is a swallowing disorder that can make it challenging to drink and eat comfortably. Along with coughing or choking while drinking liquids, signs of dysphagia may include feeling like food or liquids are getting stuck in your throat or chest, experiencing pain while swallowing, regurgitating food or liquids, and even losing weight without explanation. Dysphagia can be caused by neurological conditions, muscle disorders, or narrowing, blockages, and structural issues in the throat (per Cleveland Clinic).

Depending on the severity of your dysphagia, you may be encouraged to try different diets, such as thickened liquids, pureed foods, or modified meals, to make swallowing easier and safer. Speech therapy can also be a valuable tool in diagnosing and treating swallowing disorders, and a speech-language pathologist will work with you to customize exercises that can improve muscle coordination and swallowing techniques. In some cases, medications might be prescribed to help manage underlying causes of dysphagia, such as acid reflux or inflammation. If your dysphagia is more severe, your healthcare provider may recommend surgical interventions to address any structural issues that are contributing to your swallowing difficulties.

Other conditions that can cause coughing when drinking water

Coughing while drinking water can be an indication of an underlying medical condition. Acid reflux, for instance, results in stomach acid flowing back into the esophagus, causing inflammation and irritation (per Healthline). The acidic contents of the stomach may regurgitate into the esophagus, which could cause you to cough after taking a sip.

Issues related to oral health and dental problems can be a contributing factor to choking or discomfort when drinking water. For instance, ill-fitting dentures or other dental issues can impede the ability to properly control liquids within the mouth, potentially leading to swallowing difficulties. These difficulties can be especially challenging for older adults or those with certain medical conditions.

Allergies to certain food or environmental allergens and respiratory infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, can make the throat and airways more sensitive, leading to coughing while drinking. These conditions typically have additional symptoms, such as sneezing and mucus production. 

Coughing while drinking water can be caused by a number of factors. However, if you find yourself coughing a lot or you experience pain while drinking water, it's a good idea to get checked by a doctor. They can give you the right diagnosis and help you stay safe.