Shortness of breath after a meal can be an uncomfortable or distressing experience, but it’s usually nothing to worry about. Possible causes are food allergies, inhaling food particles, and acid reflux. There are many possible reasons why a person may feel short of breath after eating. Treatments differ depending on the cause.

1. Food allergies

Food allergies are a common cause of shortness of breath after eating. About 4% of adults and 4-6% of children have a food allergy. Most symptoms appear within minutes or hours after eating. Shortness of breath after a meal is one of the many symptoms associated with food allergies.

People who suspect a food allergy can talk to their doctor. A doctor can diagnose food allergies by performing certain tests. These tests may include an oral food challenge test, which involves eating small amounts of the suspected trigger food. The best way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid trigger foods. There is no cure for food allergies, but researchers are currently conducting clinical trials to try to find out how people can develop a tolerance to certain foods.


Shortness of breath may indicate a rare, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. People who suffer from anaphylaxis need urgent medical attention.

The signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis are:

shortness of breath
a repetitive cough
a weak pulse
hives, rash or swelling on the skin
a feeling of tightness in the throat
a hoarse voice
difficulty breathing or swallowing
nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
abdominal pain
a sense of impending doom
rapid heartbeat
low blood pressure
dizziness or fainting
cardiac arrest

2. Inhalation of food particles

Sometimes people inhale small particles of food or liquid while eating. This phenomenon is called pulmonary aspiration. People with healthy lungs are usually able to cough up these particles. The cough can cause temporary shortness of breath and possibly a sore throat. When a person’s lungs cannot suck out the particles, they can develop aspiration pneumonia. This happens when the particles cause an infection inside the air sacs of one or both lungs.

The symptoms of aspiration pneumonia are:

chest pain
shortness of breath
cough producing foul-smelling, green, or bloody phlegm
an unpleasant breath odor
difficulty swallowing
excessive sweating

Treatment for aspiration pneumonia depends on the person’s general health and the severity of their condition. In most cases, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.

3. Heartburn

A person with heartburn may feel short of breath after eating or wheeze. This is due to the backflow of stomach acid into the tube that connects the stomach to the mouth, called the esophagus. Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux. When acid backs up into a person’s throat, it can irritate the airways and cause them to swell. This can lead to breathing difficulties.

Other common symptoms of heartburn are:

warm, hot, or burning sensation in the chest or throat
burning sensation in the middle of the chest
burning, indigestion-like pain
a foul, acidic taste in the mouth
Difficulty breathing can also be a symptom of persistent acid reflux, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

A person may want to talk to their doctor about treating heartburn symptoms with medications, including:

proton pump inhibitors, which work by reducing the amount of acid in the stomach
antacids, which are medicines that neutralize stomach acid
H2 blockers, which reduce the amount of stomach acid by binding to cells that stimulate the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

Lifestyle and diet changes can also relieve or prevent heartburn. People who suffer from heartburn can get relief by avoiding acidic foods and caffeine.

Exercising frequently, eating smaller meals, reaching or maintaining a moderate weight, and standing after eating can all help relieve heartburn symptoms.

4. Hiatal hernia

A hiatal hernia can cause pain in the middle or upper abdomen. A hernia occurs when an organ or tissue compresses in a part of the body where it does not belong. A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach pushes up into the chest through the muscular wall that separates the diaphragm and the abdomen. A hiatal hernia can cause shortness of breath that gets worse after eating. A paraesophageal hernia is a type of hiatal hernia that occurs when the stomach squeezes next to the esophagus. If it gets too big, it can push on the diaphragm and crush the lungs, causing chest pain and shortness of breath. These symptoms may worsen after a meal, as a full stomach increases pressure on the diaphragm.

Some paraesophageal hernias do not require treatment. However, a person may need surgery if they have the following symptoms:

chest pain
pain in the middle or upper abdomen
difficulty swallowing
stomach ulcer

A surgeon will usually repair a paraesophageal hernia with transparency surgery, or laparoscopic surgery. He places a tiny, lighted camera, called a laparoscope, into the esophagus to view and push the stomach back into place. Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure and most people recover fully within 4 weeks.

5. GERD-Related Asthma

People with asthma may feel short of breath after eating, especially if they also have GERD.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the airways inside the lungs. In asthma, allergens or irritants that enter the airways cause them to narrow. This triggers a whole host of respiratory symptoms, including

shortness of breath
a feeling of tightness in the chest

What is GERD?

GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the muscles of the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Typically, the muscles of the esophagus shrink after a meal to hold food in the stomach. When a person has GERD, these muscles do not close completely, allowing stomach acid and partially digested food to back up into the esophagus. This acid reflux can cause heartburn.

What is the link between GERD and asthma?

People with asthma have a higher risk of developing GERD. In GERD-related asthma, stomach acid irritates nerve endings in the esophagus. The brain responds by narrowing the small airways in the lungs, which triggers asthma symptoms. Sometimes a person can inhale stomach acid into their lungs. This irritates the airways and can lead to difficulty breathing, coughing, and chest tightness.


The key to treating GERD-related asthma is treating acid reflux. Treatments include:

eat five or six small meals a day rather than three large meals
wear loose clothing around the waist
avoid lying down for 3 hours after a meal
stop smoking.

People with GERD may also choose to avoid the following foods, which can trigger acid reflux in some people:

fried and fatty foods
caffeinated drinks
pepper mint
tomato products
spicy foods


A persistent cough and tightness in the chest are potential symptoms of COPD. A persistent cough and tightness in the chest are potential symptoms of COPD. COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a progressive lung disease that makes it difficult for the body to move air in and out of the lungs. People with COPD may experience shortness of breath, which leads to a drop in their energy levels. This can make daily activities difficult. Because breathing and digestion both require a lot of energy, some people with COPD may experience shortness of breath after eating meals.

Other common symptoms of COPD are:

a frequent cough
chest tightness
A full stomach or bloated abdomen can make breathing difficulties for people with COPD worse. Symptoms may improve if people eat small, frequent meals rather than large meals.

When to contact a doctor

People who experience continuous shortness of breath after meals should contact a doctor. They will perform tests to determine the underlying cause and may prescribe medication to relieve symptoms. Sometimes shortness of breath can be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition. It’s important to see a doctor if shortness of breath occurs at rest, lasts longer than 30 minutes, or occurs alongside any of the following:

chest pain or pressure
difficulty breathing when lying down
dizziness or vertigo
fever, chills and cough
blue tint to the lips or fingertips
swelling of the feet or ankles


Breathing difficulties that occur after a meal can be a one-time symptom caused by inhaling a small particle of food or liquid. However, people who are short of breath after every meal or after eating certain foods should see a doctor to find out the cause. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the shortness of breath. Sometimes breathing difficulties can suggest a serious underlying medical problem. It can be helpful to know the signs and symptoms that indicate the need for urgent medical attention.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.