Coughing after a shower?
January 19, 2008 6:45 AM   Subscribe

Why do I always cough after a shower? And pretty much only after a shower?

After almost every shower I find myself coughing. And it's not just a little tickle; I often have great, hawking, wake-up-the-housemates coughing fits that can last for a minute or so. And that's the last time I'll think about it until my next shower.

I like my water pretty tepid, and the bathroom is fairly large, so the steam concentration is pretty low.

I'm a 35yo old male. 173cm and 76kg (~5'9" and 167lbs). I have never smoked. I hardly drink. I have a pretty good (largely vegetarian) diet. I ride a bicycle nearly every day (don't own a car) so my aerobic fitness is decent without being spectacular. I am otherwise seemingly a picture of health.

I suppose I should see a doctor, but as this has happened for as long as I can remember (>10 years) at this stage—perhaps naively—I'm simply intrigued, rather than concerned.
posted by puffmoike to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)
Is it just a specific shower or any shower? There might be mold built up in the shower stall that is causing you problems.
posted by bkeene12 at 6:51 AM on January 19, 2008

Per chance, do you blow your nose in the shower (and only in the shower)? I have a similar cough that happens almost every time I blow my nose. It starts as a throat tickle and turns into a pretty loud cough for a bit and then goes away.
posted by at 7:03 AM on January 19, 2008

I have the same problem. Almost any shower, it seems. Not every day, but many to most days. I attribute it to mucus from my sinus passages, loosened-up by the shower warmth. It hits my throat and I start coughing.
posted by chookibing at 7:05 AM on January 19, 2008

I'm thinking mold too
posted by matteo at 7:44 AM on January 19, 2008

bkeene12: I think it happens irrespective of the actual shower cubicle. But I have become so accustomed to coughing that I don't really notice anymore until somebody asks if I am alright. My partner will definitely know the answer! I'll ask her tomorrow.

The bathroom certainly isn't always in showroom condition—hey, it's a share house—but the apartment is only 11 years old, and we have had a cleaner come fortnightly for the eight years we have been here. The cubicle isn't mould-free, but I am never embarrassed to offer somebody the use of the shower. whilst I will admit to having the occasional blow—don't tell my MF-reading partner!—it doesn't occur with anything like the regularity that the coughing does.

chookbing: sounds like a reasonable hypothesis. Have you ever found a way to stop it?
posted by puffmoike at 7:49 AM on January 19, 2008

Chlorine is a respiratory irritant and it gets vaporized in a hot shower. You could see if a chlorine filter on the showerhead helps, if you're curious.
posted by zeek321 at 8:05 AM on January 19, 2008

Actually, water vapor is a mild respiratory irritant all by itself. When we want to get sputum out of a guy's lower lungs to culture it for TB, we induce deep coughing by causing the person to inhale warm, nebulized saline solution. It's not the salt that does it; it's the droplets. This harmless procedure is called "collecting induced sputum."
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:07 AM on January 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Could it be an allergy or a chemical sensitivity? Try switching shampoos?
posted by futility closet at 8:13 AM on January 19, 2008

Along the lines of ikkyu2, when I have a cold, I will sit in the bathroom and fill it with steam. The steam loosens up the phlegm and mucus to help it drain. Maybe the steam is causing your sinuses and nose to drain and it is irritating your throat.
posted by bobber at 8:29 AM on January 19, 2008

I get this when it's particularly steamy, or the weather's otherwise very cold. But, being a smoker I tend to consider it a good thing!
posted by opsin at 8:32 AM on January 19, 2008

Is your bathroom cold? Cold air first thing in the morning makes me cough.
posted by puckupdate at 9:09 AM on January 19, 2008

Do you always shower in the morning? Lots of people have to cough up goo in the morning. The steam would loosen it up. As for why the goo is there, that may not have anything to do with the shower except in that it's in the morning when you've been laying down for hours and it hasn't been draining down your throat. (Yum.)
posted by loiseau at 9:32 AM on January 19, 2008

Seconding the cold air. Cold air makes your lungs contract and induces coughing. That combined with what loiseau said about morning goo would make pretty good sense.
posted by adustum at 10:58 AM on January 19, 2008

puffmoike, here's my partial hypothesis:

Precondition: I have well water now, no additives. Same issues.

1) The steam loosens up the stuff in my sinuses
2) it starts to drain down my throat roughly about the time I'm out of the shower. I can feel it in my throat, and my coughing instinct (to remove it) kicks in.
3) sometimes, it drains down to my stomach, where I get a reflux-like reaction. I take a swig of Mylanta or similar, and it subsides.

I'll be publishing a paper on this in the spring :-)
posted by chookibing at 11:00 AM on January 19, 2008

Well, I guess you could do an experiment. Take some bleach and clean the hell out of the shower stall- really cover the thing as the mold might be under the tile. You will probably want to wear a respirator when you do this as the bleach is pretty strong stuff. This will kill any mold that is in there. Afterwards turn the shower on and rinse the shower as best you can. If this doesn't work then we can rule out the mold and look to the cold air theory.
posted by bkeene12 at 7:28 PM on January 19, 2008

I am a datum supporting the goo hypothesis. I got a sinus infection every winter for seven years running, and each one was associated with a wicked morning cough. Showering helped induce the cough by loosening up the phlegm from the position it assumed while I was lying asleep.
posted by eritain at 8:00 PM on January 19, 2008

Thanks for all the suggestions.

A bit more info which probably rules out a few possibilities mentioned above (which I hadn't considered when I originally posted):
- I shower at various times of the day, so I can confidently suggest that it isn't related to when I wake up.
- I don't use a shampoo. Do use soap though. [I know this will gross a lot of you out, but my scalp seems to self-regulate the amount of oil it produces. I used to have really oily hair that needed to be cleaned every few days. However I have long hair, and washing made my hair really frizzy. Having let it go on a backpacking holiday it seemed to sort itself out, and is now quite respectable. I don't put any product through it, simply rinsing it every day with water. I won't win any glamour awards, but it truly surprises people when I tell them I haven't shampooed in (literally) years.]
- Live in Melbourne, Australia, where it regularly hits 40°C (~100°F), and only rarely drops much below 8°C (~46°F) at night in winter. So cold air isn't the issue.
posted by puffmoike at 10:47 PM on January 19, 2008

No matter when you shower, the hypothesis that the warm steam/water is loosening phlegm and, as it goes down your throat, causes you to cough, seems like one plausible answer (IANAD but have had sinus/allergy problems before). As a test, you could try taking a decongestant for a few days to see if this alleviates the problem.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 6:29 AM on January 20, 2008

Perhaps TMI, but there are other reflexes that can cause you to cough. When I get warm water in my ear canal I start coughing. The ear canal gets some sensation transmitted through vagus, which probably explains it.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:29 PM on January 22, 2008

My hypothesis has a stupidly easy test available. Wear earplugs in the shower one time.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:31 PM on January 22, 2008

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