A dry or wet cough is not a disease but a symptom of some other medical conditions that might affect the body. It may interfere with sleep, and daily functioning of the affected person. In most cases, a dry cough (also known as a non-productive cough) usually worsens at night.
What Does Dry Cough Indicate?
A dry cough could be an outcome of several underlying conditions. Those that are commonly associated with it are as follows:
A common factor behind a dry cough that usually worsens at night is a condition called postnasal drip. It occurs when the body produces excess mucus, and this mucus runs down or accumulates in the back of the throat. This fluid contains inflammatory agents, and its presence in the throat usually gives rise to an irritating feeling. So, these two factors may trigger a dry cough. The cough may get worse at night when the person is lying down. This is because, in this position, excess mucus tends to drip down the throat, worsening the irritation and hence the cough.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
If a nocturnal dry cough is accompanied by heart burn, increased salivation or a burning throat, then GERD is most likely the culprit. GERD is a chronic condition that causes food contents including stomach acid to backflow into the esophagus. This acid irritates the lining of the esophagus and triggers a burning sensation, which usually causes a dry cough. As GERD is a chronic condition, the cough caused by it is also long-lasting.
A non-productive cough caused by GERD usually worsens at night while sleeping, because then the acid can flow more easily back into the esophagus.
A dry cough that persists, gets worse by cold or flu, and occurs along with rapid breathing, fatigue, and chest pain, is more likely a symptom of asthma. Now, in some people, asthma may occur mostly at night and not during the day. This is known as nocturnal asthma. So, it is common for such people to experience a dry nighttime cough. However, all such symptoms may also be triggered by other conditions and not just asthma.
Another common cause of a dry cough that is particularly worse at night, is bronchospasm. It refers to the narrowing of the airways. This narrowing is caused by the sudden constriction of the muscles in the walls of the bronchi and bronchioles.
Other conditions associated with a nocturnal dry cough or a dry cough that aggravates at night include:
- Nasal allergy
- Viral illnesses
- Sleeping in a dry indoor environment
- Long-term exposure to pollutants and irritants
Treatment of dry cough depends on its underlying cause. That is why, it is crucial to determine what is causing the cough, and take appropriate measures for treating it. Apart from following a doctor's advice, the following self-care measures can be taken to reduce discomfort and manage the symptoms.
☛ Keep your head elevated while sleeping. Use more pillows than usual.
☛ Use a humidifier to increase the moisture in your room. However, ensure that you are using sterile water for the machine.
☛ Inhaling steam helps moisturize throat and nasal passages, and reduce irritation. Pour some hot water in a large vessel and cover your head with a towel. Ensure that the towel is covering the vessel too, so that it creates a steamy environment inside. Then, gently inhale the steam. You can get similar benefits by spending some time inside a steam-filled bathroom.
☛ A popular home remedy to manage cough is chewing ginger. Every night before going to bed, put a small piece of freshly cut ginger in your mouth, and chew it slowly and swallow the juice. Also, you can prepare a paste of ginger and honey, and use it whenever needed.
☛ A simple method to reduce coughing and soothe an irritated throat is gargling with salt water. Mix 1 tablespoon of table salt in a glass of warm water, and gargle. Do not swallow the water though. This can be done multiple times a day or whenever your throat becomes irritated by coughing.
☛ Drinking herbal tea mixed with honey also helps in treating a dry cough. It not only helps reduce coughing, but detoxifies the body, as well. The honey helps in coating the irritated throat, and suppresses the cough to some extent. Thyme tea is a popular herbal tea used by many for treating productive and non-productive coughs. Bring a cup of water to boil, and add 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves to it. Let the leaves steep for 5 minutes. Add ½ teaspoon of honey, and drink.
☛ Mix 5-10 grams of donkey-hide gelatin in hot water. Let the mixture cool down, and drink. You can also use wine, instead of water. This is a traditional Chinese home remedy used to relieve dry cough and other common illnesses.
Although herbal remedies are useful in treating many types of ailments, they are not completely free of side effects. Therefore, before using any such remedies, always consult your doctor.
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.