Your morning run was terrific! You ran hard, and it felt effortless. After all, running is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise and it can supercharge your day.
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As you make the last stretch home, you’re feeling great and your body has released a good amount of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. But just after you’ve finished your run, or during the last bit, you start to feel the onset of a sore throat.
While you may think it’s just the cool, crisp morning air, there are a number of factors that can lead to a sore, dry throat after running.
Let’s have a look at what can cause a sore throat after your run.
Reasons Why You Get a Sore Throat After a Run
Breathing Through Your Mouth
As you run, the way you breathe changes as your muscles, respiratory system, and diaphragm work harder. Most runners tend to breathe through their mouth – bigger hole, more air, right? – and the air that passes through the throat can cause irritation, which is known as pharyngitis.
Even if the air temperature isn’t cold, it can still lead to that scratchy feeling in the back of your throat. This doesn’t just happen to runners – it can affect people who are doing aerobics classes, spinning classes, or any form of physical activity.
When you’re running and breathing, the air is drying out the back of your throat. Especially if you’re running on a hot day or if you haven’t hydrated enough, this could lead to inflammation of your throat.
There are two things that you can do when this happens. Either drink more water, or breathe through your nose.
While you may find it strange at first, breathing through your nose serves a dual purpose. Your nasal passage will filter out dust and pollen while it warms up the air on it’s way to your lungs, both of which reduce throat irritation.
The warm air will cause less irritation when it passes through your throat cavity and into the lungs. If you’re experiencing nasal congestion, you may find that running can exacerbate nasal secretions, which will lead to you running with your mouth open.
There could be another reason behind your sore throat: acid reflux, which is also known as reflux laryngitis.
Acid reflux can happen at any time while you’re doing physical activity, as the band of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus—lower esophageal sphincter— lets stomach acid and enzymes flow upwards into the esophagus.
You may not even display any of the common symptoms that are associated with acid reflux, such as heartburn, bloatedness, burping, nausea, hiccups, or having the sensation that you have food stuck in your throat (dysphagia).
With reflux laryngitis—silent reflux— you may experience symptoms like having a very hoarse voice, bitter or sour taste at the back of your mouth, the need to clear your throat excessively, a burning sensation in the throat, coughing, or the feeling of a lump in your throat.
Exercise can lead to intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn creates acid reflux symptoms. To prevent acid reflux when you run, avoid running on an empty or very full stomach. If you haven’t eaten, have a small snack like a banana, yogurt, a slice of toast, or even some whole-grain cereal before hitting the road.
If you’ve had a large meal, then it’s best to avoid running for at least three to four hours. This will allow your stomach to settle and your lower esophageal sphincter should remain closed.
Sometimes you can leave the house feeling fine, and halfway through your run, you develop a sore throat. This can be due to seasonal allergies and you’ve just run past a spot that has a lot of pollen.
While you may generally be resistant to allergies, when you’re running it may be possible that you’re inhaling a lot more of the allergen than you normally would.
You may feel as though you’ve started with a cold, as you could be sneezing, have a sore throat, and feel tired. Depending on how your body reacts, you could have redness and itching around the nose and eyes.
If you’re experiencing a sore throat, have a look at the environment you’re running through. Is it dry and dusty, or has the temperature changed? The air could just be dry with low levels of humidity, which could trigger a sore throat after running.
When seasons change, you may experience a sore throat when running in the early morning or late evenings, as the air could be colder than you may realize.
Ways to Prevent It
You may not be able to control where the dust or pollen is, but there are steps you can take to help you prevent a sore throat after your run. The first thing you can try is breathing through your nose while you run.
Breath Through Your Nose
It won’t be easy at first, especially when you want to run at your full pace. You may forget to try or struggle to get enough breath in. It’s best to try breathing through your nose in intervals. You can try breathing in through your nose and out your mouth until you find your “breathing rhythm”.
You can also start by running at a pace where you’re able to breathe easily, and then speak to yourself if you’re not running with someone. The aim is for you to speak at least three full sentences without having to gasp for air. If you can speak in full sentences without gasping, then try to maintain this pace.
Ideally, you want to find a breathing pattern that feels natural to you, but to help you get more oxygen into your system while running at faster paces you can practice diaphragmatic breathing.
Finding the right breathing technique for your style of running will help to increase your running performance, as well as help you run more effectively even if you’re running a marathon.
Wear A Neck Gaiter
When the season’s changing and the air is colder, or if you notice that there’s more pollen, dust, or pollution on your running route, try wearing a neck gaiter or balaclava.
Neck gaiters are breathable, but also help to insulate your breath so you’re not breathing in cold air or breathing in more allergens and dust while running.
If you tend to run in the park or run trails during peak pollen season, then you can also switch to running indoors on a treadmill or indoor track for a while. This will allow you to keep up with your training routine without having a sore throat.
If you have a treadmill at home, you can always set up the humidifier in the room to increase the humidity. This will help to prevent a sore throat while running at home.
Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day and have some water before you go on your run. You can take sips of water every few minutes to keep your throat moisturized while running, instead of stopping for water at your usual spots.
Avoid having too much salt, alcohol, or coffee before you start, as this can lead to you having a very dry mouth. It can affect your running performance and you may feel dehydrated during your run as well.
Treatment of a Sore Throat
Thankfully, if you have a sore throat there are a number of remedies you can try at home to help alleviate the irritation and inflammation.
Honey is known for its soothing properties, and you can either have a teaspoon of honey by itself or you can make tea and add some honey and lemon. Lemons are high in vitamin C, and they can also help to alleviate pain and break up mucus.
If you don’t have honey, you can dissolve a quarter or half a teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of warm water, and add a soluble aspirin to the saltwater mixture. Gargle with the mixture every two to three hours and this will help to reduce the inflammation, pain and irritation in the throat.
Some people also find relief from drinking cold water or eating something cold. This can help give you immediate relief from the irritation. You can also use throat lozenges after a run to soothe your throat, and they can come in handy if you still need to go into the office and you’re not at home to make a warm or cold beverage.
While you may want to reach for antibiotics to address your sore throat, they’re designed to fight bacteria. Our throats aren’t designed to filter and capture pollen and dust, and it could be these irritants or a virus that could be causing the sore throat. It’s recommended to avoid antibiotics.
If you’ve had a large or spicy meal, you may want to take an acid reflux pill an hour before you plan on going on your run. This will help to settle your stomach and prevent acid reflux while you’re running.
What If My Sore Throat Remains?
Common sense tells us that not all sore throats are the result of how we breathe when exercising, or how much pollen is in the air. The above suggestions we’ve made should help to prevent a sore throat from running-induced reasons.
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However, if you’re still experiencing a sore throat after having tried our suggestions or your throat seems to be getting worse, then it would be best to see your doctor for further treatment.