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Why Do I Start Coughing When I Laugh

by Kristin Beck
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Why Do I Start Coughing When I Laugh

Why Do I Start Coughing When I Laugh

“I’ve always been able to laugh at just about anything… until recently. It started with that tickle in my throat that made me cough when I laughed. Then one day, while watching an episode of Saturday Night Live, I had what felt like a giant hunk of cotton stuck in my chest. As I wheezed for help from a friend, choking on my own mucus, I realized something awful: Laughter has become deadly.
Laughing isn’t exactly a new phenomenon — it’s been around since before recorded history. But over time, our methods for laughing have changed dramatically. We used to stand up straight, bend forward slightly, clap our hands together and let loose with a hearty belly laugh that sent our bodies into spasms. Nowadays, we’re often seen doing a combination of headbanging, arm flailing, knee bouncing and other strange movements to get ourselves revved up. And if you’re a woman, you might be inclined to use your arms to express your joy. After all, they’re usually free!
Our newfound love of comedy routines has also given rise to many curious myths and misconceptions about why we laugh. One of these myths states that laughter actually causes us to expel air through our mouths, which then inflames our lungs. Another says that because laughter releases endorphins (those feel good chemicals), it can make us happy. However, Dr. Garay, professor of medicine and director of Asthma Research Laboratories at Northwestern University, explained that this simply isn’t true. In fact, he believes the opposite is true —that laughter actually makes us vulnerable to asthma attacks.
In his study published in July 2011, Dr. Garay found that people who suffer from allergies or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are more likely to experience an asthma attack after laughing than those without these conditions. The reason? According to the doctor, laughing sends signals throughout our body that tell us to breathe faster. This increases the amount of oxygen we take in, but it also creates more carbon dioxide and moisture. Both the excess carbon dioxide and water vapor irritate our already sensitive bronchial passages, making them swell and narrow. This leads to inflammation, causing the lungs to fill with fluid, triggering coughing fits.
So what should you do if you find yourself suddenly susceptible to bouts of uncontrollable coughing when you laugh? First, avoid laughing alone. If possible, try not to isolate yourself too much. Also, don’t go overboard when trying to control your emotions. Don’t hold back when expressing your happiness, and try to keep things light. Finally, try taking short breaks between laughs. You’ll probably notice that your symptoms clear up within minutes.
Still confused about why you start hacking when you laugh? Keep reading.
The Science Behind Why We Cough When We Laugh

Some people may think that their laughter-related asthma only occurs during times of extreme stress. But according to Dr. Garay, there are plenty of situations where we fall victim to this ailment. He points out that sometimes we laugh so hard that we forget to breathe properly. Or maybe we’re watching a funny movie where someone gets punched repeatedly, and we automatically assume this will lead to a bout of coughing. These scenarios aren’t uncommon, and neither are the situations that cause us to laugh without thinking twice about it: A joke told by a coworker, a funny YouTube video watched on Facebook, a playfully embarrassing moment captured on film, etc.
But doctors believe laughter doesn’t necessarily increase the risk of having an asthma attack; instead, it may exacerbate pre-existing problems. For example, if you already have lung issues like emphysema, you’re more prone to breathing difficulties when you laugh. Similarly, if you suffer from other respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia, you could be more susceptible to coughing when you laugh.
Another interesting theory suggests that laughter can prompt the release of hormones called catecholamines, which are known to relax bronchial muscles. So when we laugh, our relaxed muscles allow our airways to constrict even further, leading to severe coughing fits. On top of that, laughter may also stimulate the production of histamine, another hormone that induces allergic reactions. Histamine, along with other chemical compounds produced by the immune system, helps regulate blood pressure, heart rate and cell growth. All of these factors work together to increase our vulnerability to asthma attacks.
If this sounds serious, don’t worry. There are several ways to prevent this condition. Dr. Garay recommends avoiding places that encourage excessive laughter, especially bars. Instead, stick to family members, friends and coworkers. Try to stay away from alcohol consumption, as both are believed to worsen symptoms. Lastly, consider using medication to treat your condition. Some studies show that inhaling corticosteroids (such as Flovent) can reduce the severity of asthma attacks caused by laughter.
Now that you understand the science behind why you start coughing when you laugh, read on to learn tips on controlling this problem.
Tips on Controlling Your Laughter-Induced Coughs

While scientists continue to investigate why we start coughing when we laugh, sufferers have discovered numerous techniques on how to stop it. Here are some helpful suggestions compiled by Dr. Garay:
Keep your mouth closed. While this seems obvious, it’s also the easiest way to prevent you from accidentally releasing any fluids inside your mouth and creating additional irritation.
Avoid drinking liquids. Water, soda and coffee beverages are high in acidity and can aggravate your irritated bronchials.
Try not to eat food. Food contains oils, fats and proteins, which can coat your upper airways and create additional blockages.
Wear a scarf. Wearing a scarf over your nose and mouth can protect against irritating substances.
Take a break. Take a few moments to calm down immediately following your fit of giggling.
Exercise regularly. Exercise relieves tension, lowers anxiety levels and improves mood. So if you exercise daily, chances are you won’t have a lot of trouble preventing laughter-related asthma.
Stop smoking. Smoking can aggravate existing respiratory illnesses. Plus, if you smoke, you’re exposing your lungs to harmful carcinogens that can harm healthy cells.
Be aware of your environment. Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke, secondhand smoke and environmental pollutants.
Don’t expectorate. Exhale forcefully through pursed lips rather than letting saliva drip out.
Knowledge is power. Learn everything you can about how to prevent and manage your condition.
For more information on treating your laughter-triggered coughs, see the next page.
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Asthma Symptoms Treatments:
How to Control Your Humor-Induced Coughs

As mentioned earlier, laughter-related asthma isn’t limited to occasional occurrences. Many people have trouble controlling their coughing episodes no matter what they try. Fortunately, with proper treatment, you can beat this annoying condition.
First, determine the exact cause of your coughing. Are you suffering from an infection? Is your lung disease worsening? Is your underlying medical condition getting worse? Once you know the answer, contact your physician right away.
Next, take preventive measures to avoid future attacks. Drink lots of purified water, limit alcohol intake and abstain from consuming foods that cause irritation. If you smoke, quit immediately. Talk to your physician about adopting healthier eating habits, including reducing fatty and salty snacks, cutting caffeine intake and increasing fiber intake.
Lastly, consult with your physician regarding anti-inflammatory medications. Anti-inflammatories include inhalers and steroids. They provide relief for patients whose bronchial tubes are swollen and inflamed due to allergens. If you need to take multiple doses per week, ask your physician about long-term treatments and/or prescriptions.
With a little bit of effort, you can conquer your laughter-triggered coughs. To learn more about treating your humor-related asthma, visit the links on the following page.
Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by narrowing of the airways. Severe cases require immediate attention, which can mean hospitalization. People who suffer from this condition are required to follow a strict regimen of diet and lifestyle changes. Although these changes can seem overwhelming, they really aren’t difficult to maintain. With proper care and management, many asthmatics can live full lives without ever worrying about their condition returning.”

 

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6 comments

Matthewkah July 22, 2022 - 7:40 am Reply
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