For beginner runners and seasoned athletes alike, running is hard enough as it is, but mix in some bad weather or, even worse, a phlegm-y throat, and even the easiest runs become impossible.
Coughing up mucus mid-run is no fun, and there are a few reasons why your body builds up extra phlegm, including dehydration, allergies, air quality and asthma. Read on to learn why you may have extra mucus, how to best combat your symptoms and run phlegm-free.
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4 Ways to Avoid Phlegm While Running
1. Drink Plenty of Fluids
Your body produces mucus and phlegm as a way to moisturize and protect your mouth and throat, according to the Cleveland Clinic. When you inhale and exhale on a run, your mouth and throat can get a little dry. So, your body secretes extra phlegm for moisture.
And while your body is doing its job, a phlegm-y throat doesn't feel too great while you exercise. Drinking enough fluids before and after a run is one way to prevent excess buildup. Make sure to drink plenty of water before you hit the trail or track and keep a water bottle close at hand if you're running indoors.
How to know you're properly hydrated? Ideally, you should be using the bathroom every two to three hours and your urine should be a clear to pale yellow.
2. Consider Running Indoors
Exposure to smoke and pollution may be why you're experiencing extra phlegm, per the Cleveland Clinic. This is especially problematic if you prefer to run outdoors — even a super dry climate can cause your mouth and throat to secrete extra mucus.
Before your longer training runs, double check the air quality in your area on the internet (or the iPhone weather app). Opt for an indoor treadmill run on days that the air is especially polluted.
3. Adjust for Allergies
Allergies are another common reason you may build up some extra phlegm when running, according to Jason Schuster, DPT, founder of Intricate Art Spine and Body Solutions.
"Especially if people are running outside and they're allergic to something or other, this would increase mucus production," he says.
One way to combat seasonal allergies? Try to plan your outdoor runs on days when pollen counts are low. In the spring and summer, the evenings usually have higher levels of tree and grass pollen, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). In the late summer and early fall, mornings usually have high levels of ragweed pollen.
You can also try over-the-counter allergy medications, Schuster says. These can help limit your body's phlegm and mucus production.
But if you haven't used any allergy meds before, it's best to double check with your doctor beforehand. Also read the ingredients and side effects, as some OTC allergy medications can cause drowsiness — not ideal before a run.
4. Use Your Inhaler
Asthma is another factor to consider, Schuster says. Asthma causes inflammation in your lungs and your body responds to this inflammation by producing phlegm, according to the ACAAI.
Using your inhaler as prescribed is the best way to help combat asthma-related phlegm before and after running. For those who don't have an inhaler, it's best to consult a doctor or medical professional to find the best treatment method.
What Your Mucus Color Means
- Clear: This is generally a sign you're healthy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, you may still be experiencing some allergies if you have phlegm in your throat.
- White: This often means you may be a little congested.
- Yellow: This may mean you have a cold or infection that is progressing, per the Cleveland Clinic.
- Green: This is usually a sign that your body is fighting an infection. If you're still sick after 10 to 12 days, it's probably best to see a doctor.
- Pink or red: You may have had a full-on nose bleed, causing pink or red phlegm in your nose. Or, your nose may be dry and cracked.
- Brown: You may have some dried blood or dirt in your nose, causing your nasal mucus to appear brown.
- Black: You may be inhaling debris in your workplace (if you tend to work outdoors) or you may have a fungal infection.
If you notice discolored mucus or phlegm for several days, it's best to get it checked out by a medical professional.
3 Common Causes of Phlegm While Running
Seasonal allergies may be one reason you may notice extra mucus while running. Different people have different reactions to common allergens, but for the most part, you can expect watery eyes, a runny nose, coughing and a buildup of phlegm in your throat, according to the Mayo Clinic.
As mentioned above, keep an eye on pollen counts if you're susceptible to seasonal allergies or consider trying over-the-counter medications.
2. Exercise-Induced Asthma
Exercise-induced asthma (also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction or EIB) is another common reason why you may notice extra coughing and, as a result, phlegm clogging your throat while you run, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
In some cases, irritants may trigger or exacerbate EIB, like cold, dry air or pollution.
3. Cold Weather
Although you may run faster in colder temperatures (and your runs may be shorter!), frigid weather will cause your body to produce more phlegm and mucus no matter how long you're outside.
Cold air can dry out your nose and throat, causing your nasal glands to produce extra mucus to help maintain moisture, according to Northwestern Medicine.
- Cleveland Clinic: "Phlegm and Mucus: How To Get Rid of It"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: "Seasonal Allergies"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: "Asthma Cough"
- Cleveland Clinic: "What the Color of Your Snot Really Means"
- Mayo Clinic: "Allergies"
- ACAAI: "Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB)"
- Northwestern Medicine: "Quick Dose: Why Does the Cold Weather Make My Nose Run?"