Lovely topic... Suffocating in phlegm during EVERY effort, for months/years. Anyone else?

You get the idea from the title. Essentially whenever I do a hard effort and my breathing rate goes up I start to feel panicky, like I’m suffocating.

My legs, heart and lungs are never the first to go, it’s always me almost choking on phlegm in my throat. Breathing through my nose has always been a bit of a non-starter for me as well, when I get to hard efforts.

It’s frustrating as I feel it’s severely limiting my abilities.

I don’t feel at all ill otherwise and it’s certainly not a symptom of overtraining because I’m like this all the time, even if I’ve not done a serious workout for months.

I know it’ll sound ridiculous, but I kinda feel I somehow lost the ability to clear phlegm some years ago. I’m sure I used to be able to just “hoik” it up and spit it out, but the days the best I can do is a horrible snort (my wife is VERY tolerant of a lot of my quirks but she rightly finds this pretty unpleasant!), and then kinda swallow down whatever my snort collected. But that doesn’t help as it’s then still in my airway.

This isn’t normal, right? What can I do about it? I live in the UK and the NHS is fantastic but I’m reluctant to waste a GPs already-stretched time on something that doesn’t affect “normal life”. Would they be able to do anything for me anyway?

All thoughts and suggestions welcomed, sorry to those of you who are eating your dinner!

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Do you eat dairy products? They can cause the build up of mucus.

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I do (skimmed milk in half a dozen teas each day and some cheese most days), but I always have, and I certainly didn’t used to have this problem. I really hope this isn’t the answer, I love my cheese…

I would try cutting out all dairy for a month and see how you feel. The problem might be caused by a food or environmental sensitivity. Those types of conditions are always tough to diagnose but dairy is a common cause.


Only during peak allergy season, which for me was last week. I didn’t do any training last week.

Does temperature (either indoor or outdoor) changes matters? What about humidity?

I’ve looked into this and it seems that lactose intolerance affects what happens once the dairy gets to your stomach. So vomiting/diarrhoea/bloating/flatulence etc. I don’t see any mention of mucus etc.

Cow’s Milk Allergy on the other hand could explain mucus, but everything I find about it seems to be about CMA in babies/toddlers, not in adults?

Can you give me a source that suggests dairy might be causing my issue? Sorry, I’m always skeptical about such things…!

Thank you, your input IS appreciated!

Not that I’ve specifically noticed, but I have a horrific memory… At the moment (and I’ve just aborted a workout) it’s 20C/68F in the house.

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What if cycling and being healthy ARE “normal life?” Instead of getting medical diagnosis or advice from an internet cycling forum (where people surely mean well), you should see a doctor. You’ve described a chronic problem that warrants at least a discussion with the doctor. Particularly because you feel like it’s

Go see a doctor - report back with findings :grinning:



Regardless of the “go see a Doctor” advice. You can try an elimination diet to see if any food group might be causing the problem. No risk in that.

I get this to a lesser extent compared to you. An ENT on the forum emailed me and told me to talk to my ENT about ipratropium spray. It has reduced my symptoms but have not eliminated them.


I had similar issues when I had my “Mid-Life Fitness Crisis” and started working out again after 25 years of being an average non-active Joe. Although it was constant, it was worse in the late-summer/early fall pollen season. Because of this, my doctor suspected it was allergies. What ended up working to minimize the issue for me was a 24 hour Cetirizine allergy pill (common brand name in the USA is Zyrtec) and a few squirts of fluticasone nasal spray (common brand name in the USA is Flonase) daily.

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I have been suffering from similar symptoms since the beginning of December. As I suffer from asthma, I’ve been escalated through the range of reliever inhalers, and I’ve topped out at a 2x 200mg dose of Fostair twice a day. No improvement.

I’ve been referred for x-rays and bloods, and have another check-in with my GP tomorrow, where I expect to be referred to a specialist.

The best I’ve felt over the past months was when I was prescribed antibiotics and steroids – it felt like the mucus in my throat/bronchial tubes had ‘dried up’.

I’ve suffered from exercise induced asthma for over 20 years. Allergies make it worse (definitely worse in spring here in Sacramento with all our trees) but even without allergens, I’ve always struggled at high intensity regardless of my fitness level. For as long as I can remember, I ran out of air faster than those I was around, and always remember coughing for hours after an intense workout. I didn’t realize that was not normal until high school. Coach told me to get checked for asthma, and sure enough, doc put me on an inhaler after 5 minutes of exercise that caused my lungs to sludge.

Since then, I’d just use albuterol before riding, and take zyrtec daily, pretty much year round (used to be claritin/loratidine, but switched when I realized it had anticholinergic effects). When I started TR, I was struggling to breath due to the phlegm and hacking. Figured it was just something I’d have to live with as always, plus I was not anywhere near great shape and it does get better with improved fitness, up to a point.

Mentioned it to my doctor at a regular checkup a couple months ago and she asked if I’d be interested in trialing montelukast (Singulair). Turns out my doctor is into sports and has similar asthma condition and takes it herself. Did some reading and figured it was worth a shot.

Really, really glad I did. My phlegm production and coughing during vo2 work has dropped a lot, as has my coughing afterward. Not only has it helped my high-effort workouts, it’s had a side effect of helping with my constant sinusitis (non-pathogenic) and sleep, since my sinuses remain less inflamed I suppose. It does make me a little sleepy, so I take it at bed time. So, not completely gone, but much much better.

I did try different foods and stuff, didn’t find much that helped or hurt aside from apple juice, which seems to loosen up gunk a bit (guess the pectin helps break down gunk in your throat).

So, I recommend those with asthma, EIB, etc – look into it and talk to your doc. Has been a big help for me. I won’t go as far to say life-changing, but I now realize I’ve definitely spent most of my high-intensity workout life on hard-mode: it’s far easier now to work until my legs give out (rather than my lungs by virtue of chocking on my own sputum).

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How about that! I’ve just been prescribed this for the next month. If no benefit, then it’ll be onwards to a specialist. The side-effects look pretty wild, mind…

Do you still take it? While I’ve had asthma since a kid, I rarely needed to use my reliever. When I increased my exercise levels over the past few years, I’d take a puff 10 minutes prior, but it’s been another level since December - I’d be waking up in the night wheezing :confused:

I don’t think what I have is asthma related, which I guess I can be thankful for… Certainly I very rarely cough at all.

Right there with you, man. If they could come up with something like prednisone that didn’t turn me into a raving lunatic, and didn’t have severe side effects with long-term usage, I would live on it from November through March. Just dries everything up, and gives me normal lungs, instead of the irritated, asthmatic, allergic lungs that I do have.

As for the phlegm, it could be from your sinuses, and going into your throat via post-nasal drip. Have you tried using a neti-pot after showering (the steam from the shower loosens the mucus).

I also second the general consensus to see a doctor, specifically an Ear/Nose/Throat doc. When any condition gets to the point where it’s hindering your fitness, it’s time to get serious about treatment.

Good luck!

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Don’t self diagnose … I didn’t think I had asthma

Several points over the last 20 years I I’ve had instances when I wake up in the morning, or doing exercise and I would gag on the phlegm in my throat, sit by the side of the road and cough and gag until I coughed a lump of phlegm the size of your thumb out. Would happen about once a year, went to the doctors and was told it was just a infection

Last year it got worse, and in the morning you could see the phlegm in the back of my throat, and throat would feel swollen, saw a different doctor, who sent me to ENT and the thirst think they said was “asthma” , which I though was total ball locks as I’d never had any problem breathing , but they put me in a inhaler which sorted 90% the problem, and then they put me on a fluticasone nasal spray, I would still be doubious about the asthma but my peak flow has improved, my performance on the bike has improved , and for the first time in my life I can breath through my nose (and I notice when I don’t use my inhaller)

I’m not a consultant but the way it was explained to me was that Asthma is generic term for breathing issues, classic asthma where you lungs close up is one form, but anything the affects tip of the nose the the bottom of your lungs could be a type of asthma (somebody correct me if I’m wrong)

If you don’t know what the problem is, don’t be quick to dismiss

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