Ask a doc: ‘Why do I keep coughing at night?’


When it comes to sleep disruptions, it doesn’t get much worse than the dreaded night cough.

If coughing is keeping you up at night, you’re probably frustrated, fatigued and wondering how to put a stop to it.

Dr. Daniel Landau, a board-certified physician in South Carolina and contributor to The Mesothelioma Center, suffers from a persistent night cough himself. 

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He shared with Fox News Digital some common reasons for the condition.

Reasons for night coughs

Many different factors can contribute to nighttime coughing, experts say.

Many different factors can contribute to the presence of night coughs, according to experts. As one told Fox News Digital, “Sometimes, the issue is as simple as gravity.” (iStock)

“Sometimes, the issue is as simple as gravity,” said Landau. “When we are sitting upright, we tend to keep substances within our stomach. As we lie down, acid can work its way up into the esophagus.”

When that happens, the acid can irritate the vocal cords and larynx, leading to coughing. 

“Sometimes, something as simple as sleeping a little more upright or taking acid-blocking medicines can assist with this,” said Landua.

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Post-nasal drip is also more likely to occur at night. 

“During the day, when we’re sitting up and leaning forward, most of the drippings move forward,” the doctor explained. 

“When we lie down, however, it drips into the back of our throats and can cause us to cough at night.”

Woman sore throat

A particular form of asthma can cause coughing to occur at night, a doctor noted. (iStock)

There is also a form of asthma, known as cough-variant asthma, that tends to emerge more often at night, according to Landua.

“This can be a challenge to diagnose, but treatment for asthma can help,” he said.

Colds and allergies can also contribute to nocturnal coughing.

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While less common, night coughing can be an early sign of certain types of cancers — particularly those that involve the lungs or head and neck area, noted Landua. 

“While we absolutely don’t want people to assume coughing at night means they have cancer, in the right context, this may need to be considered,” he told Fox News Digital.

Woman coughing in bed

While less common, night coughing can be an early sign of certain types of cancers — particularly those that involve the lungs or head and neck area. (iStock)

Another cancer that can present itself through a persistent cough is mesothelioma, which involves the tissue that lines the lungs, stomach, heart and other organs.

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“Someone who has a known exposure to asbestos would be much more likely to have mesothelioma compared to someone who hasn’t,” he said. 

“A persistent cough in someone with these sorts of exposures would need to be considered.”

Treating and preventing night coughs

Staying hydrated is key to keeping coughing at bay, as it keeps the airways moist and helps loosen mucus, according to Dr. Raj Dasgupta, chief medical adviser at Sleepopolis in California.

Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier or taking a steamy shower can help loosen mucus and soothe the airways, the doctor added.

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“You can also prop yourself up with extra pillows to elevate your head and help with postnasal drip and acid reflux,” Dasgupta said.

Honey can also help to prevent coughing and ease a sore throat, he noted.

Over-the-counter remedies like antihistamines or cough suppressants can provide relief, but it’s important to discuss the coughing with your doctor if it’s serious,” Dasgupta advised.

Heart doctor

If a nighttime cough persists for longer than three weeks or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms like fever, chest pain or difficulty breathing, it’s definitely time to reach out to your doctor for personalized advice, a doctor advised. (iStock)

To prevent coughing in the first place, he suggested keeping an eye out for what sets it off, such as pet dander or dust bunnies.

“Stay hydrated, keep your sleeping environment tidy and try to manage any allergies,” he added. 

When to seek medical attention

If a nighttime cough persists for longer than three weeks or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms like fever, chest pain or difficulty breathing, “it’s definitely time to reach out to your doctor for personalized advice,” said Dasgupta.

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“Don’t forget regular check-ups with your doctor to make sure there’s nothing more concerning going on that is causing an annoying nighttime cough.”

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.



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