Updated at: 04-07-2023 - By: John Lau

Are you facing discomfort due to coughing and phlegm after drinking alcohol? You’re not alone, as many individuals frequently experience these surprising respiratory symptoms post-drinking.

This comprehensive guide will explore the under-discussed relationship between alcohol consumption and associated lung problems, providing a better understanding of why it happens and how to manage it.

Ready for some eye-opening insights? Let’s dive in!

Alcohol and its Effects on Airways

Alcohol and its Effects on Airways (1)

Alcohol vapor affects the airways by increasing the risk of mucociliary clearance impairment and exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD.

Alcohol vapor characteristics in the airways

Alcohol vapor holds a distinctive character that has the potential to disturb our airways. It acts as an irritant, impacting the smooth functioning of our breathing apparatus – from the nasal passages down to the lungs.

The inhalation or even exhalation of alcohol vapors can trigger a series of adverse reactions in some individuals, particularly those with existing respiratory conditions or alcohol intolerance.

Further agitation comes when you consider how these sturdy vapors interact with our mucous membranes and delicate lung tissues. These interactions often lead to inflammation within the lungs and impairment of key reflexes like coughing and gagging—both crucial for maintaining clean airways free from foreign bodies.

This is alarming, considering research indicates that such impairment increases pneumonia risks among drinkers, independent of their smoking status.

Intriguingly enough, not only are strong alcoholic beverages potential culprits behind this phenomenon but submissive apple juice containing alcohol too. Even intake via seemingly harmless routes like intravenous infusion or inhalation can result in significant bronchoconstriction—a fancy term for when your air pipes tighten up—and other respiratory troubles following consumption.

Alcohol’s impact on mucociliary clearance

Alcohol can have a significant impact on mucociliary clearance, which is the body’s natural defense mechanism for removing mucus and debris from the airways. When alcohol is consumed, it can impair the movement of specialized hair-like structures called cilia that line the respiratory tract.

These cilia normally work together in a coordinated beating motion to clear mucus and trapped particles out of the lungs.

Studies have shown that alcohol can disrupt this important process by slowing down or even paralyzing the cilia, leading to impaired mucociliary clearance. This means that mucus and foreign substances may accumulate in the airways, making it harder for individuals with alcoholism to breathe properly and increasing their risk of developing respiratory issues like bronchitis or pneumonia.

It’s important to note that chronic alcohol consumption can further compromise lung function over time, as excessive drinking can damage delicate lung tissue and increase inflammation in the airways.

These effects combined with impaired mucociliary clearance contribute to coughing up phlegm after drinking alcohol – a common symptom experienced by individuals struggling with alcoholism.

Studies on alcohol and asthma

Several studies have examined the relationship between alcohol consumption and asthma, providing important insights into how drinking can impact respiratory health. Research has shown that alcohol can trigger asthma symptoms in individuals who are already diagnosed with the condition.

The exact mechanism behind this is not fully understood, but it is believed that alcohol’s ability to produce histamine and sulfites may contribute to airway inflammation and constriction. Additionally, alcohol can lower the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to respiratory infections that can exacerbate asthma symptoms.

Studies on alcohol and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Research has shown a clear link between alcohol consumption and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a progressive lung disease that includes conditions such as bronchitis and emphysema.

When people with COPD consume alcohol, it can exacerbate their symptoms and lead to more frequent flare-ups of the disease.

One study found that individuals who drank heavily were at a significantly higher risk of developing COPD compared to non-drinkers or moderate drinkers. This could be due to several factors.

Firstly, alcohol can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to respiratory infections that contribute to the development and progression of COPD.

Secondly, excessive alcohol consumption can impair lung function by causing inflammation in the airways and reducing overall lung capacity. In turn, this impairs breathing and makes it harder for individuals with COPD to clear mucus from their lungs effectively.

Coughing and Phlegm After Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol and its Effects on Airways

Alcohol consumption can lead to coughing and phlegm production, which can be distressing for individuals. Find out why alcohol causes these respiratory symptoms and how you can manage them effectively.

Read more to discover the link between alcohol and respiratory issues.

Why does alcohol cause phlegm?

Alcohol consumption can lead to the production of phlegm, contributing to coughing and respiratory discomfort. When alcohol is ingested, it can irritate the airways and cause inflammation in the lungs.

This irritation stimulates an increase in mucus production, which leads to an excessive amount of phlegm.

The exact mechanisms by which alcohol causes phlegm are not fully understood, but several factors come into play. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the body, including the respiratory system.

As a result, the body tries to compensate for this dehydration by producing more mucus to moisturize and protect the airways.

Additionally, alcohol can impair normal lung function and hinder proper mucociliary clearance – the process by which our lungs clear out mucus and foreign particles. This impairment further contributes to increased mucus production and difficulty in clearing it from our respiratory system.

Common symptoms of coughing and phlegm after drinking

Coughing and phlegm after drinking alcohol can be very discomforting. Here are some common symptoms to look out for:

  • Excessive coughing: Alcohol can irritate the airways, leading to a persistent cough.
  • Chest pain: Some individuals may experience chest discomfort or pain along with their cough.
  • Shortness of breath: Alcohol-induced respiratory issues can cause difficulty in breathing.
  • Excessive mucus/phlegm production: Drinking alcohol can lead to an increase in mucus production, resulting in phlegm build-up.
  • Fever or chills: In some cases, coughing and phlegm after drinking alcohol can be accompanied by fever or chills.

The link between alcohol and respiratory issues

Alcohol consumption is directly linked to respiratory issues, especially among individuals struggling with alcoholism. The intoxicating effects of alcohol can cause inflammation in the lungs and impair important reflexes like gagging and coughing.

This makes alcoholics more susceptible to pneumonia and other respiratory infections. Excessive coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, fever or chills, and an excess production of mucus/phlegm are common symptoms associated with alcoholic lung disease.

Additionally, asthma can be triggered by alcohol intake, while lowered immune system function after drinking can lead to prolonged coughing episodes. It’s crucial for those grappling with alcoholism to be aware of these risks and seek medical assistance if they experience any concerning respiratory symptoms.

– Alcohol-related bronchoconstriction

When consumed excessively or in certain forms such as apple juice containing alcohol or through intravenous infusion or inhalation, alcohol has been found to induce bronchoconstriction – a narrowing of the airways that leads to difficulty breathing.

This bronchoconstriction reaction can cause severe respiratory symptoms in some individuals, including coughing fits and excessive phlegm production. Alcohol intolerance can also result in immediate reactions such as stuffy nose or other respiratory symptoms post-consumption.

Managing Coughing and Phlegm

Alcohol and its Effects on Airways (3)

To manage coughing and phlegm after drinking alcohol, there are a few steps you can take.

Tips for reducing symptoms

  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help thin out mucus and make it easier to cough up. Proper hydration also helps to keep the airways moist and reduces irritation.
  • Avoid triggers: Identify any specific triggers that may worsen your symptoms, such as certain types of alcohol or additives. Avoiding these triggers can help minimize coughing and phlegm production.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol consumption: Cutting back on or eliminating alcohol consumption can significantly reduce respiratory symptoms. Alcohol intake should be avoided especially if you have a history of asthma or chronic bronchitis.
  • Quit smoking: If you smoke, quitting is vital for improving respiratory health. Smoking irritates the airways and leads to an overproduction of mucus. Seek support and resources to help you quit successfully.
  • Use a humidifier: Adding moisture to the air in your home can help soothe irritated airways and reduce excess mucus production. Consider using a humidifier, especially during dry winter months.
  • Practice good hygiene: Regularly washing your hands and avoiding close contact with individuals who have respiratory infections can decrease your risk of getting sick and exacerbating your symptoms.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and managing stress are all essential for maintaining overall health, including good respiratory function.
  • Seek medical advice: If your coughing and phlegm production persist despite implementing these tips, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional. They can evaluate your symptoms, provide a proper diagnosis, and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Remember that everyone’s experience with alcohol-induced coughing and phlegm may differ. It’s important to listen to your body and take steps towards managing your symptoms effectively.

Lifestyle changes to improve respiratory health

Improving respiratory health is crucial for individuals struggling with alcoholism. Here are some lifestyle changes that can help:

  1. Quit smoking: Smoking further damages the respiratory system and exacerbates the effects of alcohol on lung function. Quitting smoking will greatly improve respiratory health.
  2. Avoid secondhand smoke: Exposure to secondhand smoke can also worsen respiratory symptoms. Minimize time spent in environments where smoking is prevalent.
  3. Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps thin out mucus and promotes better clearance from the airways, reducing coughing and phlegm production.
  4. Maintain a healthy diet: A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins provides essential nutrients for optimal lung function and immune support.
  5. Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity promotes lung capacity, improves circulation, and strengthens respiratory muscles. Engaging in activities like walking, swimming, or cycling can be beneficial.
  6. Practice deep breathing exercises: Deep breathing exercises help expand lung capacity and promote better oxygen exchange. Consider techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing or pursed-lip breathing.
  7. Manage stress levels: Stress can worsen respiratory symptoms by triggering inflammation and compromising immune function. Find healthy coping strategies such as exercise, meditation, or counseling to reduce stress levels.
  8. Avoid triggers: Identify specific triggers that worsen coughing or phlegm production after drinking alcohol (such as certain types of alcohol or environmental factors) and try to avoid or minimize exposure to them.
  9. Get enough sleep: A good night’s sleep is essential for overall health, including respiratory health. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support your body’s natural healing processes.
  10. Seek medical guidance: Consult with a healthcare professional experienced in addiction medicine to create an individualized plan for managing respiratory symptoms related to alcohol consumption.


In conclusion, coughing and phlegm production are common symptoms experienced by some individuals after drinking alcohol. The effects of alcohol on the respiratory system can cause inflammation, impaired cough reflexes, and increased mucus production.