With whom would you like to chat?
A LIVE Oxygen Specialist:

Customer Service:


Foods that May Worsen Respiratory Symptoms

Increased shortness of breath – wheezing – cough. Yikes! We know that there are foods that are good for your lungs, but are there really foods that can cause your respiratory symptoms to worsen? Scientists say that, at least for some people, there are.

Bid Farewell to Foods that Cause Gas and Bloating

Certain foods and beverages are notorious for producing gas and bloating, which often leads to uncomfortable – not to mention embarrassing – digestive symptoms. However, your gut is not the only system that suffers from the consumption of gassy foods. Your neighboring respiratory system can also be affected. As the girth of the abdomen increases from the effects of gas and bloating, so does pressure on the diaphragm, which can, in turn, make it difficult to breathe. People with lung disease have enough problems in the breathing department, so they certainly do not need to complicate matters by choosing foods and libations that produce gas.

For a list of foods to avoid, read Identifying Foods that Cause Bloating.

Say No to Nitrates

Cured meats such as hot dogs, ham, corned beef, luncheon meats and bacon are preserved with nitrates and nitrites. These substances do a great job of preventing spoilage, but may have a negative impact on your health. A study published in the European Respiratory Journal reveals that a high dietary intake of cured meats is associated with an increased risk of worsening COPD symptoms and subsequent hospitalization for COPD exacerbation.1 Instead of meats cured with nitrates, look for meats cured in sugar or other curing agents.

Be Aware of Food Allergens

Approximately 3% to 4% of all adults experience food allergies resulting from an overreaction of the body’s immune system to certain foods.2 The trouble with food allergies is that they can worsen respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing and cough. Foods that cause mucus because of an immune reaction and are most commonly associated with allergies include:

  • Eggs
  • Cow’s Milk
  • Shellfish
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat and other foods containing glutens
  • Fresh fruit
  • Salads
  • Hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans and other tree nuts

In addition to the potential for actual foods to cause an allergic reaction, some food preservatives can worsen respiratory symptoms as well. Here are some food preservatives to avoid that could trigger symptoms for you.

  • Potassium bisulfite
  • Potassium metabisulfite
  • Sodium bisulfite
  • Sodium metabisulfite
  • Sodium sulfite

If you are aware of an existing food allergy, then you already know which foods to avoid. However, if your respiratory symptoms increase only after eating certain foods and you have never been told you have a food allergy, you may have developed one. Talk to your physician about allergy skin testing.

foods that cause mucus

What Are Foods that Cause Mucus?

If you struggle with shortness of breath, adding excess mucus to the mix is not going to help your breathing. In addition to any foods you might be allergic to, there are some foods that can cause increased mucus production, cause your mucus to thicken, contain histamine or trigger histamine production that can cause your nose to produce excess mucus. As such, it is important be aware of foods that cause mucus so you can avoid them when necessary. Here is what to watch out for.

Foods Containing Histamine

  • Aged cheeses
  • Alcohol
  • Anchovies
  • Avocados
  • Cider
  • Dried fruits
  • Eggplant
  • Fermented foods
  • Mackerel
  • Mushrooms
  • Processed meats
  • Sardines
  • Smoked fish
  • Spinach
  • Sour cream
  • Tomatoes
  • Vinegar
  • Yogurt

Foods that Can Cause the Body to Produce Histamine

  • Bananas
  • Chocolate
  • Eggs
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Shellfish
  • Strawberries

Foods that Cause Mucus or Cause Mucus to Thicken

  • Milk
  • Cabbage
  • Corn
  • Excess salt or sugar
  • Meat
  • Potatoes
  • Preservatives and additives
  • Processed foods

Limit Meaty, Starchy and Salty Foods

salty foodsContrary to popular belief, dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, do not increase mucus production3 and worsen your cough; however, meaty, starchy and salty foods do.4 A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reports that people who consume a diet composed of mostly meat, refined starches and sodium have a 1.43 times higher risk of developing chronic respiratory symptoms and COPD.2 

Which foods should you consider cutting out of your daily diet? Start with the following:

  • Sweets and desserts such as pies, cake, donuts and sweet rolls
  • Red and processed meats such as hamburger, beef ribs, cold cuts and other luncheon meats
  • French fries and other fried foods such as onion rings, fried chicken, fried zucchini and mozzarella sticks
  • Refined grains such as white rice, cream of wheat, corn and flour tortillas, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, white bread, sandwich rolls or buns

With all the foods that cause mucus, have the potential to cause allergies or cause histamine production, it can be difficult to figure out which foods are unlikely to exacerbate your breathing problems. So, which foods should you eat? Try choosing:

  • Certain fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Certain fish and poultry
  • Whole grains
  • Low fat or fat-free dairy products

Additionally, there are foods that may decrease the amount of mucus your body produces, so if you are not allergic to any of these foods, they could help you breathe a little easier. Here are foods that decrease mucus.

  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish
  • Lemon
  • Nuts
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Pickles
  • Rose hip tea
  • Seeds
  • Watercress

Changing your diet to adjust for your health can be a bit tricky. However, once you know what foods cause mucus, allergic reactions or breathing problems for you, you can make the necessary adjustments to help you breathe and feel better. Talk to your doctor about how to ensure you get the nutrition you need, and find out what else you could do to improve your breathing.


1 Pinnock CB, et. al. Relationship between milk intake and mucus production in adult volunteers challenged with rhinovirus-2. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1990 Feb;141(2):352-6.
2 Butler, LM., et al. Prospective study of dietary patterns and persistent cough with phlegm among Chinese Singaporeans. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Published ahead of print on November 4, 2005 as doi:10.1164/rccm.200506-901OC.
3 de Batlle, J., et. al. Cured meat consumption increases risk of readmission in COPD patients. Eur Respir J. 2012 Sep;40(3):555-560. Epub 2012 Mar 9.
4 National Jewish Health. Food Allergies. Last reviewed 11/6/09.

7 thoughts on “Foods that May Worsen Respiratory Symptoms”

  1. Avatar Jane Bell says:

    thank you for your article look forward to many more
    as it is most helpful

    1. Thank you so much, Jane, for the lovely compliment. It means a lot to me when people get something out of the articles that I write. I appreciate you reading my articles and sharing your comment. Please check back often as we are always adding more. Thanks again.


      Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN

  2. Avatar Carol says:

    thanks for the info, I have COPD and wondered at times if certain foods made breathing worse, so now I know some to cut out.

  3. Avatar Tumelo Motsoeneng says:

    I have wizzy and shortness of breath that causes frequent caughing, I've taken all cough mixtures but in vain. I've taken x-rays comes good no problem with my lungs, no high BP no cholesterol, don't smoke and I've never smoked, my left eye drops tears for no reason, ears dry out, something comes out of the nose once after 4 to 5 days it looks like raisin but 4times bigger than raisin , don't have runny nose. This breathing problem that forces me to cough is now 3 years.. I've been to doctors and specialist but no help.. The only thing that stops this coughing due to breathing difficulties is '' Panafcort pills '' all my life I was eating avocado but sees my tongue feels like being grated with cheese grater.. Is my problem with foods? Please help me

  4. Avatar Francine Hackney says:

    Is pepper jack cheese aged cheese

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Francine,
      Aged Cheeses tend to be sharp and hard or firm in texture. Cheeses that lend themselves well to the aging process are Cheddar, Gruyere, Manchego, Gouda and Parmesan-types like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano.

  5. Avatar Charles Hutchinson says:

    I love these tid bits!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML is not allowed in comments. It is automatically filtered out of comments.


Inogen Call For Support View Cart
Request a FREE Info Kit