It may start with a little tickle, a little annoying twinge in your throat… but just as quickly it escalates into a full-blown hacking fit that keeps you up when trying to fall asleep. Not ideal!
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stop coughing at night (or any time of day, for that matter).
Read on for 20+ doctor-recommended tips for stopping your whoop ASAP. Plus, info on why nighttime coughs happen in the first place.
A cough is a bit like love, you know it when you feel it but defining it is hard AF!
Basically, though, coughing is the body’s way of ridding the lungs and airways of invaders, explains Liana Casusi, MD and consultant for Oh So Spotless. “It’s a reflux reaction caused by irritants like dust, smoke, pollution, or mucus, entering the body,” she says.
Wet cough vs. dry cough
Medically speaking, Casusi says that there is no certain way to pinpoint the cause of a cough just by describing it as dry or wet.
“Also known as a productive cough, a wet cough brings out mucus, while a dry cough or nonproductive cough doesn’t,” she says. “Both types of cough can be caused by infections, structural lung disease, or airway inflammation from irritants.”
“These infections can cause inflammation in the body which increases and thickens the natural mucus in the body,” she says. And that extra mucus leads to coughing.
Asthma and allergies are conditions that also cause coughing that is likewise due to inflammation, she says.
Other common causes include:
- heart failure
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- airway infections
- lung disease
- damage to vocal cords
- sleep apnea
No doubt, if you’re coughing, you probably don’t want to be coughing anymore. After all, coughing is a little loud, a little uncomfy, and a little painful!
“But because coughing is a natural mechanism by which our body can get rid of foreign substances in the airways, it is not advisable to stop it, per se,” says Casusi. “On the contrary, addressing the underlying cause is the best solution.” Makes sense.
Below are 19 tips on addressing the underlying cause of coughs.
1. Stay away from allergens
Not to sound like Captain Obvious, but if you have allergies, avoid those allergens.
“Common allergens that cause coughing are dust and pollen,” says Casusi.
If you’re not sure whether you have an allergy to anything, you might consider consulting with an allergist or trying out an at-home allergy test.
2. Rid your home of dust
On the topic of allergens… you’d be wise to keep your home clear of common allergens (dust, mites, pollen, and the like) if at all possible.
“Change your curtains and linens often to avoid the collection of those irritants around the house,” says Casusi.
You also want to be mindful about keeping carpets, rugs, and stuffed toys clean, she adds.
3. Use air filters to allergy-proof your bedroom
Sorry, but regularly washing your lines and baby blanket isn’t enough to stop a cough that comes out to play at night.
You’re also going to want to mite-proof your bedroom with the help of a HEPA air filter.
Other strategies to mite-proof your bedroom:
- Use allergy covers for pillow cases, duvets, mattresses, and box springs to reduce and prevent dust mites.
- Wash bedding in hot water once per week.
- Don’t let pets on your bed or in your bedroom.
4. Manage asthma
Asthma causes airways to become narrow and inflamed. A dry cough is a common symptom of asthma.
If your cough feels dry and you sometimes have a hard time breathing, consult with a doctor or other healthcare professional. You may need a prescription inhaler to treat asthma.
5. Shut windows
“Especially during allergy season, you want to keep your windows closed at night,” says Casusi.
Doing so will keep (more) pollen, dust, and mites from blowing into your space.
6. Avoid polluted areas when possible
According to Casusi, “the most common reason people cough is that the body is clearing the airways after or during exposure to pollution.”
Given that more than 90 percent of the global population is exposed to polluted air every year, avoiding polluted areas altogether will be tricky.
But if you’re affected by constant cough, consider checking the Air Quality Index before you travel by visiting AirNow.gov.
7. Got GERD? Tackle it
GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux and a common cause of nighttime coughing.
If you frequently experience burning from your chest that worsens after eating or lying down, talk with a healthcare professional. That’s the number one symptom of GERD.
There are a few things people with GERD can do to calm symptoms.
“Most importantly, take your medications and avoid food that triggers your symptoms,” says Casusi. You might keep a food diary to help you figure out what these foods are if you’re not sure.
8. Incline your bed
Lying down makes it easier for stomach acid to backflow into your esophagus. So, it’s best to wait at least 2.5 hours after eating to lie flat. And it may help to raise the head of your bed by 6 to 8 inches.
People with GERD aren’t the only ones who can benefit from sleeping at an incline — almost every cougher can.
It’s easier for irritants to make their way to your throat to trigger coughing when you’re lying down.
Your move: Try propping up some pillows to raise your head. Or, if you’re feeling fancy (or looking for an excuse to buy a new mattress), invest in an adjustable mattress.
9. Exterminate cockroaches
Cockroaches aren’t just terrifying — they’re also a common cause of coughs. Ugh.
The saliva, feces, and body parts of cockroaches may cause coughing and other allergy symptoms.
Prevent cockroaches in your home by:
- keeping food containers sealed so they’re unattractive to cockroaches
- removing piles of newspapers and magazines that attract dust and give cockroaches places to hide
- using an exterminator to eliminate a severe cockroach infestation
10. Use a humidifier
Dry, warm air can dry out your throat and airway, and make you more prone to coughing fits. That’s why so many people’s coughs start acting up around the time that they turn their heat on in the winter.
Blasting a humidifier that produces a cool mist can help keep the air in your bedroom (and throat) moist.
11. Seek treatment for a sinus infection
Feeling like the Booger Monster? You could have a sinus infection.
Sinus infections can cause postnasal drip (especially when lying down!), which tickles the back of your throat and leads to coughing.
Getting prescription antibiotics for your sinus infection from a healthcare professional will help clear up the infection, and thus stop the drip (and accompanying cough) in its tracks.
12. Use a neti pot
Whether you’ve got a full-blown sinus infection or simply a stuffed-up schnoz, a neti pot may help.
Designed to clear sinuses, these little devices can help rinse mucus from your nasal cavity. The result? Less postnasal drip.
13. Eat honey
“Ingesting 2 to 3 teaspoons of honey before bedtime may help loosen mucus in your throat,” says Casusi.
Another option is to mix 2 teaspoons of honey into a caffeine-free tea, such as herbal tea.
Friendly reminder: You should never give honey to children younger than 1 year.
14. Sip lemon juice
Sipping water with a little lemon juice might help those who do not have gastroesophageal reflux, according to Casusi. That’s because the lemon has anti-inflammatory properties.
If you’re feeling like Julia Child, you might even whip up a hot drink with lemon juice, ginger, warm water, and honey for a three-in-one superdrink.
15. Nosh on pineapple
So, eat up!
(No, eating pineapple cake before bed doesn’t count).
16. Gargle salt water
“Gargling with a saltwater solution can help clear out airway congestion,” says Casusi. This will help those with asthma, allergies, and infections to cough less.
Simply mix ½ teaspoon into 8 ounces of warm water and swish-swish-spit away!
17. Take decongestants for a cold
Your coughs may be caused by the common cold.
Rest, chicken soup, fluids, and time are usually all it takes to beat a cold.
Though, if your cough is severe, you might try a cough medication for adults and children older than 6 years. Decongestant sprays that help reduce postnasal drip may also be used in adults and children older than 6 years.
18. Try an over-the-counter medication
“Over-the-counter (OTC) cough remedies can deal with coughs in several ways,” says Casusi. “Suppressants lessen your urge to cough while expectorants thin mucus and make it easier to hack up.”
Depending on the quality of your cough, as well as your comfort level with taking OTC medication, you might consider trying one.
19. Get your flu shot
Yep, sometimes the flu will make you cough.
If you’re set on avoiding a hack-a-thon, get your yearly flu shot, suggests Casusi.
“You’ll also want to update any other vaccines that you might need,” she says.
20. Stop smoking
A chronic cough is a common side effect of long-term smoking.
It’s not a quick fix, but if you smoke, quitting will not only improve your cough but your overall health, too.
Talk with a healthcare professional about programs to help you kick the habit.
Many of the same things that cause a cough during the day cause a cough at night.
But the position one assumes while sleeping, the stagnancy and quality of bedroom air, and exposure to lint, dust, pollen, and mites from bedding can all make a PM coughing fit common.
No matter what’s causing it, there are different remedies and lifestyle measures you can try to relieve or prevent nighttime coughing in both adults and children. Including:
- reclining on pillows
- inclining your mattress
- turning on your humidifier
- washing bedding
- keeping windows shut
- taking on OTC or prescription medication
Good news: Usually, coughs do go away on their own! “Most coughs will go away on their own within in a few days,” says internal medicine specialist Eliana Rose, MD.
But *persistent* severe nighttime coughing can be a sign of a serious condition.
Chronic night-time coughing is a symptom of heart failure, as well respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and COPD.
Lung cancer and blood clots in the lungs are less common causes of severe coughs.
Casusi’s recommendation: “Consult with a physician if your cough lasts longer than three weeks, or you notice the amount of phlegm in your coughing increasing or you’re coughing up blood.”
You should also get medical help if you have a cough and:
- a fever of 100˚F (38˚C) or above
- shortness of breath
- swelling in your legs, ankles, or abdomen
- chest pains
“You also want to consult a doctor if your cough begins to interfere with your life, or consistently interrupts your sleep cycle,” adds Rose.
Friendly reminder: If you go to the doctor and they diagnose an underlying condition and prescribe a treatment regime, please stick to it!
“Those with infection may be prescribed antibiotics or supportive therapy, depending on the cause,” says Casusi. In the case of antibiotics, it’s necessary to complete the whole course of antibiotic treatment even if you feel better to avoid future problems with bacterial resistance.
“While on medication, stay hydrated and make sure to drink plenty of water,” she adds. And if you suspect that one of your medications is causing the coughing fits, contact a healthcare professional (because yes, some medications make coughing worse!).