Coughing at Night

Respiratory infections are one of the most common causes of coughing at night. Inappropriate sleeping position and having elaborate meals at night that causes gastroesophageal reflux disease are some of the other reasons that can make a person cough incessantly.
HealthHearty Staff
Concerned gp
Cough is a mechanism by which the body is able to throw away unwanted particles that have entered the throat and the lungs. One may experience intermittent bouts of coughing any time during the day, and is considered to be a protective response of the body that drives away all the undesirable debris from the respiratory system. However, coughing frequently everyday during nighttime is not normal and demands prompt medical attention. Be it children or adults, persistent night coughing gives a feeling of chest discomfort and disrupts a good night's sleep.
Causes
Some people are fine during the day but as soon as they lie down at night, they experience an unusual feeling in the throat which ends up in the form of cough. This may occur due to the following reasons:
Asthma
This medical condition is often considered the cause of cough that appears only at night. Coughing, especially at night, is a warning sign of asthma. Inflammation of the air passages is the hallmark of asthma.
Sinusitis
Sinusitis is a viral or bacterial infection that makes the sinuses swollen. Most people suffering from sinus infection often cough at night. Sinusitis causes irritation to the throat which results into coughing.
Prescription Drugs
Intake of certain medicines can cause nasty side effects that includes coughing at night. ACE inhibitors prescribed for high blood pressure patients are notorious for causing dry cough at night. Reducing the dosage can be beneficial to relieve cough.
Smoking
The habit of smoking is one of the main reasons why many cough at night. Years of smoking prompts the body to raise mucus production. This excessive mucus production along with the accumulation of toxic particles results in repetitive coughing that usually worsens at night.
Viral Infections
Viral infections affecting the upper respiratory tract such as common cold and seasonal flu too can trigger barking cough in adults at night. In addition to night cough, these medical conditions are typically marked by sore throat, fever and body aches. Even after the viral infection associated with common cold has gone away, the patient may continue to experience dry cough that aggravates during nighttime and may last for quite a few weeks.
Heart Problems
Coughing at night could also suggest that the heart is not functioning properly. To be precise, it might indicate the presence of congestive heart failure (CHF). People with CHF suffer from mucus producing cough. The mucus that is coughed up during heart problems is pinkish in color. Besides coughing up mucus, the patient may complain about trouble breathing, racing or pounding heart.
Lung Infection
Lung infections that include bronchitis or pneumonia can also be responsible for causing night cough. Bronchitis, a viral infection, typically brings swelling of the bronchi, tubes that transport air to and from the lungs. The inflammation narrows the air passages, making it difficult to breathe properly. Occurrence of dry or phlegm producing cough will depend on how far the infection has affected the respiratory tract. In case the colonization of the virus remains restricted to the lower respiratory tract, persistent dry cough is the likely outcome. Mucus generating cough lasting for a minimum period of 3 months point towards chronic bronchitis. People affected with interstitial lung diseases and other conditions like idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, bronchiectasis and tuberculosis also tend to cough incessantly at night.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Forceful coughing at night has also been attributed to acid reflux disease, a condition in which stomach acid travels in the backward direction and reaches the food pipe and the throat. This happens because the food pipe shows its inability to close properly. This abnormal back flow of stomach acid triggers a burning sensation in the chest and dry or mucus generating cough. Acid reflux coughing may begin soon after a heavy meal. In some cases, stomach acid that has accessed the throat may gain entry to the lungs. So, the coughing action associated with acid reflux is the body's mechanism of eliminating the trapped corrosive acid in the lungs.
Improper Sleeping Position
Not using a pillow when sleeping at night can also cause stomach acids to leak into the esophagus (food pipe) and cause mucus to accumulate in the throat. This may eventually make the person cough at night. So, when lying down, make sure to use a pillow as it helps to keep the head elevated and reduce the risk of acid reflux. Also, sleeping immediately post lunch or dinner can trigger acid reflux symptoms. So, before lying down, make sure there is a gap of at least 2 hours after meals.
Postnasal Drip
Respiratory issues such as common cold, seasonal flu and sinus infection are commonly accompanied by postnasal drip, a condition in which abnormally high secretion of mucus in the nasal activity (nostrils) that eventually travels down to the throat. The excess mucus build up gives a feeling of lump in the throat. People with post nasal drip cough frequently, especially at night, which actually helps to remove mucus and clear the throat.
Allergic Reaction
Exposure to allergens, which can be air borne particles such as dust and pet dander during nighttime can also lead to sudden bouts of coughing. The immune system considers allergens as harmful substances, and so when they are inhaled, they irritate the respiratory tract. The irritation causes accumulation of mucus in the respiratory tract. To get rid of this mucus buildup, the person may excessively cough temporarily. Apart from forceful coughing, contact with allergens can also cause itchy watery eyes and congested nose.

Consuming foods at night that you are allergic to can also cause persistent cough. For instance, many have the habit of drinking milk before retiring to bed. However, if they are allergic to dairy products, they may cough persistently throughout the night.
Low Iron Diet
When the diet is poor in iron, it is obvious that the person will be sooner or later be diagnosed with deficiency of this dietary mineral. People who are iron deficient often whine about sore throat, which eventually causes forceful coughing. Increasing the intake of dietary iron will reduce irritation in throat and subsequently reduce the cough.
Treatment
Gargling With Salt Water
One can also get considerable relief from a bad, noisy cough that keeps everyone awake, by gargling several times with warm salt water. Mix half a teaspoon of salt properly into a cup of warm water and then gargle to reduce cough.
Honey
Research has show that honey is an effective approach towards decreasing frequent bouts of cough that happen at night. Honey is completely safe and is often prescribed for children having coughing fits. A single dose, as recommended by the doctor, before bedtime can provide immense relief from persistent cough, and allow the child to sleep happily.
Steam Inhalation
Excess mucus production is often responsible for causing chest congestion and persistent cough. Steam inhalation provides an easy way to reduce mucus build up and improve cough. This simple home remedy liquifies the mucus, which facilitates mucus drainage from the lungs.
Increase Water Intake
Drinking plenty of water also provides the same effect. Consuming adequate water throughout the day helps to thin out the mucus, making it easier to drain. So, at night one may get relief from chest congestion and cough.
Medicines
Tessalon Perles (Benzonatate) is a drug that is prescribed for people suffering from persistent coughing at night. This oral medication can suppress and even stop cough caused due to allergies and colds. Tessalon Perles is a great remedy for chronic dry cough. This drug has been very effective to relieve cough, however, consultation with a doctor is essential before taking this medicine. This is because the drug is not suitable for certain medical conditions like asthma. Even pregnant women and children less than 10 years old are advised to stay away from this drug.

Asthma patients may get relief from cough and breathing problems by inhaling corticosteroids. On the other hand, people suffering from bronchitis are able to effectively manage their symptoms with broncho-dilators, medications that help to dilate airways and ease breathing.
Antihistamines
Antihistamines may also help to relieve an allergic cough. When a person is exposed to an allergen, the body cells secrete a chemical known as histamine, which is responsible for causing bothersome symptoms. Taking prescription antihistamine such as Benadryl and 'Robitussin Allergy and Cough Syrup' is effective to stop the release of histamines, thereby helping to reduce or prevent allergy symptoms.
Avoid Meals at Night
In case your persistent cough at night is due to stomach acid being pushed up in the throat, skipping meals at night may assist to prevent symptoms associated with acid reflux. If this is not possible, make sure that you lie down 3 hours after having meals.
Cough Expectorants
Many times, usage of cough suppressants is not recommended if it is a phlegm producing cough. In such cases, coughing actually expels the phlegm and reduces irritation. However, using these drugs would prevent this stuff from coming out of the body and cause further health complications. So, one should use cough expectorants such as Delsym, Robitussin and Mucosolvan to drain the mucus and clear a nagging cough.
A Simple Home Remedy
Coughing at night can be indeed annoying, but an easy way to stop it would be to use Vicks VapoRub (Grease-less). A small of bottle of Vicks VapoRub is not at all costly, and is available at various drugstores. Firstly, soak a cloth in warm water and then use it to clean the bottom of the feet. Take some amount of VapoRub from the bottle and apply it evenly to the soles of the patient's feet. Applying it in excessive amounts will make it wet and cause discomfort to the patient. After applying it carefully, ask the patient to wear thick woolen socks.

This procedure prescribed by many doctors works like a magic wand to stop coughing. You will notice the difference within minutes. Vicks VapoRub when used this way can stop coughing fits within 5-7 minutes, thus allowing the patient to have a good night's sleep. People experiencing persistent bouts of cough at night have found relief for quite some time after covering feet soles with Vicks VapoRub.

Massaging a chest rub in which eucalyptus is an active ingredient can provide relief for many hours. Keeping indoors clean, free from dust mites and other allergens can also stop episodes of nighttime coughing. In case the aforementioned remedies provide temporary relief, with night cough resuming again, then it is indicative of a serious health issue, and so the first priority should be to consult a competent doctor and take the necessary treatment as per the diagnosis.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.