Coughing is the body’s way to clear your throat and upper airways of mucus and irritants. However, when a cough keeps you up at night, it can have disastrous effects on your health. You may feel good all day and then things suddenly change the moment you lay down to sleep. A number of ailments can cause a cough, but certain conditions are more prone to cause a cough at night. To understand why you may be up all night coughing, consider the most common reasons for a nighttime cough.
Post-nasal drip is one of the most common causes of a nighttime cough, and is often caused by allergies, the common cold and other sinus issues. When you lie down, your throat muscles relax, and the natural pull of gravity allows mucus from your sinuses to drain down the back of your throat. This drainage from the sinus cavities is called post- nasal drip. Another sign your nighttime cough is caused by post-nasal drip is a mild sore throat upon awakening. To treat post-nasal drip, your doctor may recommend an over- the-counter decongestant if the condition is caused by a cold, sinusitis or a respiratory infection. For allergies, an allergy medicine that reduces the production of mucus in response to allergens may be helpful. Some cough formulas combine decongestants with cough-suppressants, and are often very effective for treating nighttime post-nasal drip.
Nighttime asthma, also called nocturnal asthma, is a condition found most commonly in children. Asthma is a disease that involves the respiratory system, and causes inflammation, swelling and narrowing of the airways. With nocturnal asthma, these symptoms occur at night, and are often accompanied by a nighttime cough. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, a nighttime cough may be the only sign of asthma, especially in young children. With nighttime asthma, you may wake up coughing and find that your chest feels tight, making it difficult to take a deep breath. Wheezing is also common and may produce a whistling sound when exhaling. To diagnose nocturnal asthma, your doctor may order a sleep study, which evaluates your breathing while at rest. Treatments for nighttime asthma include bronchodilators, inhalers and allergen- blocking medications, which can help prevent asthma attacks. In some cases of severe symptoms, treatment with steroids may be needed.
You may be surprised to hear that a stomach condition could be causing your nighttime cough. However, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, could be the source of your problem. When you have GERD, the valve at the top of your stomach does not close properly and allows acid to flow back up into your esophagus and throat. Symptoms tend to be worse at night when you are lying down, because the position allows acid to flow up into your throat, resulting in heartburn, a sore throat and a nighttime cough. The cough also occurs because of stomach acid irritating the throat and vocal cords while you are lying down. GERD is often treated with antacid medications and other kinds of drugs that decrease stomach acid or block the production of acid. To prevent a nighttime cough caused by GERD, elevate the head of your bed to help prevent the backflow of stomach acid.
Another cause of nighttime coughing may be the medications you are taking. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some medications can cause nighttime coughing in adults. A class of heart medications called ACE inhibitors is especially well known for causing a dry nighttime cough as a side effect of the drug. ACE inhibitors are used to treat several different heart conditions, including high blood pressure, heart failure and other forms of heart disease. If you suspect your nighttime cough may be due to the heart medication you are taking, call your doctor or heart specialist to discuss other treatment options.
- National Institutes of Health: Asthma http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000990.htm
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cough http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/cough-000042.htm