New runners often experience the discomfort of burning lungs when they first try to overexert themselves. Running forces you to breathe more rapidly and forces your lungs to work harder to get oxygen through your body, so they need time to acclimate to this new sensation.
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Thankfully, the pain will typically stop within a few minutes after you stop running. However, if you experience pain or burning after each run, you may be breathing incorrectly, or you may have exercise-induced asthma or an underlying medical condition that requires immediate medical attention.
If your lungs hurt after running, check if you're breathing through your mouth or your nose. Mouth-breathing, exercise-induced asthma and cold weather can all trigger a burning sensation in the lungs.
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Why Your Lungs Hurt
Breathing through your mouth can cause pain or burning in your lungs after running because your brain thinks carbon dioxide is being lost in excess. In response, your body produces goblet cells to produce mucus, which slows your breathing and constricts your blood vessels. This vasoconstriction and excess mucus can make catching your breath after running more difficult, resulting in a painful burning sensation.
The problem is often worse in cold weather. However, the phenomenon is generally temporary and goes away as you gain more experience with running. Exercise-induced asthma, on the other hand, is a chronic condition caused by inflammation and narrowing of the airways.
Breathing Properly When Running
If you have lung pain after running and shortness of breath, your body will naturally start working against you and begin gulping air through the mouth, but this can cause temporary inflammation of the lungs. It's easy to identify whether you are breathing through your nose or mouth.
Breathing through the nose is more difficult and requires practice, but it will slow down your breathing pace, making the air you inhale work more efficiently in your lungs as your lungs will have more time to receive oxygen. If you have exercise-induced asthma, you may also experience coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, tiredness or the inability to keep up with others while you're running.
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Talk to a Doctor
If you experience pain regularly after running, make an appointment with your doctor to be certain of the cause of your lung pain after exercising. Although a mild burning sensation in your lungs after running is common, you should never assume the lung pain you're experiencing is normal.
A doctor will do a physical examination to rule out a respiratory infection or being out of shape as the cause. The doctor will ask you a series of questions regarding your lung pain after running, such as your history with lung pain, the climate you're running in, how quickly the pain disappears once you rest and what other symptoms you experience. Your doctor may have you run on a treadmill and then test your lung function before and after your run to help with a diagnosis.
Treating the Problem
If you only experience burning in your lungs when certain triggers are around, avoid the triggers for pain. Some allergens or exercise-induced asthma triggers include cold and dry air, pollution, chemicals and pollen. Breathing through your nose can minimize the effects of these triggers because the nostrils function to filter, warm, moisturize and dehumidify the air that enters your lungs.
Your doctor may prescribe a bronchodilator in the form of an inhaler or pills if exercise-induced asthma is the diagnosis. Albuterol is a common bronchodilator medication prescribed to open the airways and help with symptoms. If you have an inhaler, be sure to carry this with you during your run. Do not leave your inhaler in your car or gym locker.
If a more serious underlying condition is present, such as pleurisy or pulmonary edema, for example, do not resume running until these conditions have been treated and your doctor gives you permission to start running again.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (Asthma)"
- American Lung Association: "Breathing Basics for Runners"
- American Lung Association: "Five Ways You Might Be Breathing Wrong"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Common Asthma Triggers"
- ACE Fitness: "Breathing Techniques That Can Enhance Your Workouts and Help You Relax"