What Are Some Causes of Nighttime Cough?

An infection in the respiratory tract can cause nighttime coughing.
Croup causes a barking, seal-like cough that may begin a few hours after a child has gone to bed.
Many cases of nighttime coughing last throughout the day, regardless of the time.
Colds can cause nighttime cough.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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There are numerous causes of nighttime cough. Many of these may cause a cough during the day, but the most common causes of nocturnal cough are illnesses like colds, viruses, allergies, asthma, and bacterial infections of the respiratory tract and sinuses. A few illnesses or conditions from these groups are associated with worsening cough at night. Other factors that may result in a cough at night include specific medications or illnesses like gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) and congestive heart failure (CHF).

Any type of severe sinus or airway congestion might create some worsening of cough at night. Lying down makes it difficult for phlegm to drain, and mucus can accumulate in the throat, stimulating a nighttime cough. Other factors like dry air or exposure to home allergens can create more coughing as well. Slightly elevating the head with an extra pillow for adults or a pillow under the mattress for children may help with gravity-based coughing problems, and using humidifiers and trying to reduce allergens in a home could improve humidity or allergy-based coughing.

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A few infections are especially noted for their worsening nighttime cough, and both most commonly occur in children. Croup, which can occur with many viruses or bacterial infections, causes a barking, seal-like cough that may begin a few hours after a child goes to bed. Whooping cough or pertussis also tends to be worse at night. These conditions improve with time, and croup can respond favorably to a more humid environment.

Allergic conditions may often cause a nighttime cough that doesn’t occur much in the day. This is explained by the fact that many people are allergic to things in their home, and after being out all day, they come home to exposure to allergens that cause sinus problems. By the time they are ready for bed, the sinuses and respiratory tract may be very irritated, creating nocturnal coughing. On the other hand, when people leave home for the day, symptoms improve. Asthma, which may or may not be caused by allergy, is another condition that could be characterized by a nighttime cough.

Sometimes nocturnal coughing is unrelated to viruses, bacterial infections, allergies or asthma. GERD is an additional offender that causes stomach acid to flow back up the esophagus. This irritation can create a constantly runny nose, and in some people it causes a cough that worsens at night, due partly to gravity. Congestive heart failure, where the heart’s function is decreased, has a cough that worsens when lying down as a primary symptom. When there is no clear cause of cough, people should get medical help to rule out conditions like asthma, GERD, and CHF.

Another cause of nighttime cough is certain medications used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure. In particular, ACE inhibitors like captopril, lisinopril, and enalapril often provoke cough that may be most active at night. If this interferes with sleep, there are other antihypertensives that might be tried.

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bluedolphin
Post 3

A persistent day time and nighttime cough in children could be due to allergies, or it could be a habit cough. A habit cough usually develops after illness and stays. The child with a habit cough won't cough while asleep but will cough every time he awakens in the night.

SarahGen
Post 2

@stoneMason-- You ought to see a doctor because it's not possible to get a diagnosis this way.

I'm not an expert but I can tell you about my experience. I had the same symptoms as you, I saw my doctor about it and he diagnosed me with acid reflux. He said that the acid from my stomach was coming up to my throat and causing irritation. I was coughing because of that irritation.

My doctor put me on a proton pump inhibitor medication to reduce stomach acid and I started using antacids regularly. The coughing has mostly disappeared. Rarely, it occurs after I go to bed if I had a large meal for dinner. When it does, I get up and take my antacid and go back to bed. The coughing stops.

You might want to try an antacid before bed to see if it helps. But see a doctor because there are other causes of nighttime coughing.

stoneMason
Post 1

I don't cough at all during the day. I don't know what happens when I go to sleep that makes me cough. Soon after I lay down, my throat starts to burn and tingle. I develop a dry cough and I am forced to sit upright and sip on water. This repeats at least six times during the night and prevents me from getting a good night's sleep. Like I said, I don't cough at all during the day. What might be the cause?

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