A morning cough may be caused by an illness, an allergy, or asthma. Coughing is your body’s way of clearing irritants from your respiratory system. Often, it isn’t a sign of a serious medical condition. But if the cough lingers, you should see a doctor.

Many things can cause a morning cough. Let’s examine eight potential causes of your morning coughing fits and look at how you can treat them.

While you sleep, phlegm and other irritants can pool in your lungs and throat. When you become active in the morning, the phlegm starts to break up and may trigger a coughing fit.

A cough that produces phlegm is known as a wet cough or productive cough. If it doesn’t produce phlegm, it’s called a dry cough or unproductive cough. Knowing which type you have can help you narrow down the cause.

If you have a cough in the morning, the common cold is a likely cause. The average American has two to three colds per year, and children usually have more. A persistent wet cough is one of the most common symptoms.

Many people find their cough is worse in the morning from phlegm that accumulates overnight.

Other symptoms of the common cold include:

Treatment

Treatments for a cough caused by the common cold may include:

As your doctor whether these medications, especially those available over the counter, are safe for a child.

Learn more about treatments for the common cold.

Respiratory infections are a group of infections that target either your upper or lower respiratory tracts.

The common cold is a type of respiratory infection, but there are many other types that can also cause a cough, such as COVID-19, the flu (influenza), and pneumonia.

Bronchitis is another type of respiratory infection that causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes in your lungs. It can be either acute or chronic.

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by an infection such as the common cold. Respiratory infections like bronchitis can potentially increase phlegm buildup overnight, leading to coughing fits in the morning.

Along with cold-like symptoms, respiratory infections can cause:

Treatment

The treatment for a cough caused by respiratory infection that is not the common cold can depend on the type of infection and whether it affects the upper or lower airway.

In most cases, you can turn to many of the same treatments that you would use for the common cold, as the symptoms can be similar.

If you also have a fever, you may also take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Speak to your doctor before giving your child an NSAID or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Other treatments may include:

  • antiviral therapy
  • antibiotics for bacterial infections

Learn more about respiratory infections.

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is an immune reaction to airborne allergens such as pollen, pet dander, or dust mites.

Symptoms can include:

Because dust mites tend to live in bedding, people with dust mite allergies usually experience worse symptoms at night and in the morning.

Pollen counts are generally highest in the morning and may worsen your cough in the morning if you have a pollen allergy.

Treatment

Potential treatments for a cough caused by allergies include:

Learn more about treatments for allergies.

A postnasal drip is one of the reasons allergic rhinitis or a respiratory infection can lead to a cough. This is when your body produces excess mucus that builds up in the back of your nose and drips into your throat. It’s often a symptom of colds, allergies, or eating spicy foods.

Symptoms include:

  • a constant feeling of needing to clear your throat
  • a wet cough that’s worse at night or in the morning
  • nausea
  • sore or scratchy throat
  • bad breath

Postnasal drip tends to cause the most discomfort at night when you are sleeping. You may still feel the urge to clear your throat when you wake up.

Treatment

You can relieve postnatal drip by:

Learn more on how to treat postnasal drip.

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes the airways to your lungs to swell. This swelling can make it difficult to breathe. Asthma severity can range from barely noticeable to life threatening.

The most common symptoms of asthma include:

  • dry or wet coughing
  • wheezing
  • trouble breathing
  • chest tightness
  • fatigue

Many people with asthma have a cough that’s worse at night or in the early morning. If you have cough-variant asthma (CPA), your symptoms may be entirely confined to a cough that doesn’t seem to go away.

Treatment

If you have asthma, you can control your symptoms using short-acting and long-acting medications. These include:

For more severe asthma, other treatment options are available. Learn more about asthma treatments.

COPD is a group of progressive pulmonary diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

The most common cause of COPD is smoking tobacco. The primary symptoms of COPD are a wet cough and trouble breathing.

Other symptoms include:

  • wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • frequent sickness
  • fatigue

Late-stage COPD may cause emergency symptoms, such as:

  • bluish lips or gray fingernails from low oxygen levels
  • confusion
  • inability to catch your breath or talk
  • rapid heart rate

Symptoms can appear at any time of day, but in general, people with COPD experience the worst symptoms in the morning.

Treatment

COPD treatment options include:

Learn more about treatments for COPD.

Recent research has shown that as much as 85% of chronic cough cases may be caused by GERD. GERD occurs when your stomach acid frequently flows back into your esophagus from your stomach.

Symptoms include:

  • chronic cough
  • burning in your chest, often after eating
  • chest pain
  • swallowing difficulty
  • feeling of a lump in your throat

GERD commonly causes a cough after eating and when lying down. Some people with GERD may notice their cough is worse in the morning after spending the night lying in bed.

Treatment

Treatment options for GERD include:

Learn more about treatments for GERD.

If you find you are congested and coughing for a long time, you may have a sinus infection (sinusitis). The congestion in your nose can accumulate overnight, making you cough more when you wake up.

Other symptoms of a sinus infection include:

  • postnatal drip
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • bad breath
  • pain in your face

Treatment

If your sinus infection is bacterial, you will need to take antibiotics. However, in many cases, a sinus infection can go away on its own.

In the meantime, you can use many of the same treatments that you would use for the common cold, other respiratory infections, allergies, or postnasal drip.

In addition, you can also place a warm compress on your nose and forehead to reduce your sinus pressure and help thin out mucus.

Learn more about treatments for a sinus infection.

If your morning cough doesn’t go away after several weeks, you should visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

A morning cough is also frequently paired with other symptoms. If you experience these symptoms, you should speak to a doctor:

Other symptoms may be more serious. Seek emergency help if you experience:

Medical emergency

Coughing up blood may be a sign of a serious medical issue. You should see a doctor if you see blood in your phlegm. Possible causes include:

Read on for answers to common questions about morning cough.

How do I stop coughing in the morning?

The best treatment option for your cough depends on the underlying cause. There isn’t a cure for the common cold or for respiratory infections. Getting plenty of rest will help your body fight the infection faster. Cough medication can help suppress your urge to cough, while decongestants can help manage postnasal drip.

How do I know what’s causing my morning cough?

The best way to know the cause of your morning cough is to see a doctor, especially if you also have other symptoms. The doctor will likely listen to your breathing with a stethoscope. They may send a sample of your mucus to a lab to search for a viral infection or measure your lung function with a spirometry test. If this is not enough to identify the cause, they may order imaging tests like an X-ray or a CT scan, or a scope test called a bronchoscopy to look inside your lungs with a small camera.

What’s causing my baby to cough in the morning?

Babies can experience morning coughs for many of the same reasons as adults and older children. When coughing in babies and children is caused by a respiratory infection, it appears in 46%-56% of children. Specific infections that can occur in young children include croup and whooping cough (pertussis).

There are many potential causes of a morning cough. Often, a morning cough isn’t a need for concern.

However, if it persists for more than 2 weeks or if you’re having trouble breathing, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis.