A morning cough may occur due to an illness or another health condition, such as allergies or asthma. But if the cough lingers, you may need medical treatment.

Coughing is your body’s way of clearing irritants from your respiratory system. Often, it isn’t a sign of a serious medical condition.

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.

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

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

You may find your 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:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend cough medication for children ages 2 years and under.

Learn more about medications and home remedies to help treat the common cold.

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

The common cold is a type of respiratory infection, but other types may also cause a cough, such as:

Along with cold-like symptoms, respiratory tract infections may cause:

Treatment

Treatment for a cough caused by respiratory tract infection could depend on the type of infection and whether it affects the upper or lower airway.

You can usually use many of the same treatments for the common cold, as the symptoms can be similar.

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

Other treatments may include:

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 may 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 if you have a pollen allergy, this may worsen your cough in the morning.

Treatment

Potential treatments for a cough caused by allergies include:

Learn more about treatments for allergies.

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’re sleeping. You may still feel the urge to clear your throat when you wake up.

Treatment

You can relieve postnatal drip by:

  • using a saline spray or netipot to rinse out your sinuses
  • taking decongestants or antihistamines
  • staying hydrated, which can help thin the mucus

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, such as corticosteroids and bronchodilators.

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

There’s no cure for COPD, but some treatments could help you manage your symptoms. These may include:

Learn more about treatments for COPD.

Research suggests that up to 85% of chronic cough cases are caused by GERD. GERD occurs when your stomach acid frequently flows back up into your esophagus.

Symptoms may include:

GERD commonly causes a cough after eating and when lying down. Your cough may also be 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 sinusitis (sinus infection). 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
  • congested nose
  • high temperature
  • green or yellow mucus
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • bad breath
  • pain and swelling 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 or is accompanied by the following symptoms, visit a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis:

Medical emergency

Some symptoms that accompany a morning cough may be a sign of an underlying health condition that requires medical attention.

Seek emergency help if you experience:

What does a GERD cough sound like?

A GERD cough may be accompanied by wheezing, hoarseness, and regurgitation.

Why am I coughing so much but not sick?

If you recently experienced a cold, your cough may linger for up to 4 weeks without other symptoms. A cough may also be a sign of allergies to environmental pollutants, such as pollen. If your cough doesn’t go away after 3 weeks, speak with a healthcare professional to receive a proper diagnosis.

How do I stop uncontrollable coughing at night?

Some tips to stop coughing at night may include using a clean humidifier, cleaning your room of allergens, closing your windows, taking OTC medications before bed, and inclining your bed.

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

A doctor will first perform a physical examination, ask about your symptoms, and obtain details of your medical history. Then, they will listen to your breathing with a stethoscope. They may also perform other tests, such as sputum gram stain, spirometry test, imaging tests like an X-ray or CT scan, or a bronchoscopy.

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 3 weeks or if you’re having trouble breathing, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor to receive a proper diagnosis.