Health Conditions A-Z Infectious Diseases Common Cold Coughing at Night? Here Are 7 Possible Causes—and How To Treat Them From allergies to acid reflux—here are seven possible causes for why you are coughing at night. By Hallie Levine Hallie Levine Hallie Levine is an award-winning health and medical journalist who frequently contributes to AARP, Consumer Reports, the New York Times, and Health.com. She lives in Fairfield, CT, with her three children and her cuddly Labrador retriever, Wiggins. health's editorial guidelines and Maggie O'Neill Maggie O'Neill Twitter Maggie O’Neill is a health writer and reporter based in New York who specializes in covering medical research and emerging wellness trends, with a focus on cancer and addiction. Prior to her time at Health, her work appeared in the Observer, Good Housekeeping, CNN, and Vice. She was a fellow of the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2020 class on Women’s Health Journalism and 2021 class on Cancer Reporting. In her spare time, she likes meditating, watching TikToks, and playing fetch with her dog, Finnegan. health's editorial guidelines Updated on December 7, 2022 Medically reviewed by Jane Kim, MD Medically reviewed by Jane Kim, MD Jane Kim, MD, is currently a medical editor and writer. She also consults on digital content for physician medical education. learn more Share Tweet Pin Email Allergies, a cold, or acid reflux; no matter the cause, there's a simple reason behind all your nighttime hacking. "A cough is a protective mechanism to clear your airway," explained Jonathan Parsons, MD, a pulmonologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. There are several ways healthcare providers can get to the bottom of what's causing your cough at night. "First question we'd want to know is: Is [the] cough part of the daytime symptoms as well?" explained Joseph Khabbaza, MD, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic. Here's how to tell what that nighttime cough means. Postnasal Drip Postnasal drip, also known as upper airway cough syndrome, is one of the most common causes of chronic cough. It's caused by mucus dripping down your throat (due to allergies or a cold), which tickles nerve endings, triggering coughing, Dr. Parsons said. Along with itchy eyes, sneezing, and congestion, postnasal drip can be a symptom of nasal allergies. If you suspect allergies, try an over-the-counter antihistamine, nasal spray, or decongestant. Your 12 Worst Allergy Mistakes Asthma People with asthma have inflamed airways, which can cause difficulty breathing as well as wheezing and coughing. The cough gets worse at night or early morning. Additionally, chest tightness and shortness of breath might accompany asthma. To check for asthma, your healthcare provider will most likely order spirometry, a lung function test, Dr. Parsons said. According to the CDC, two types of medications can treat asthma: quick-relief drugs, which provide symptom relief, and drugs you take daily to keep asthma attacks under control. Nine Medicines for Asthma and Allergies Acid Reflux Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus. If you're only coughing at night, acid reflux could be to blame for your cough, Dr. Khabbaza said, since stomach acid can creep up when you lay down to sleep at night. "The classic sign is coughing that starts as soon as you lie in bed at night," said Dr. Parsons. Other symptoms can include: Chest painDifficulty swallowingShortness of breath Diagnostic tests may include an x-ray of your upper GI tract or an endoscopy (where a healthcare provider inserts a thin, flexible tube down your throat to examine it). GERD is treated with medication, lifestyle changes, or surgery. Additionally, Dr. Khabbaza said you might want to consider eating your last meal three or four hours before bed to avoid coughing throughout the night. 11 Acid Reflux Symptoms You Need to Know—and When To See a Healthcare Provider Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Dr. Parsons said it sounds like a hacking cough that produces a lot of mucus, particularly in the morning. The main cause of COPD is thought to be cigarette smoking. Patients with COPD can also experience: Shortness of breath (especially with physical activity)WheezingChest tightnessA whistling sound when breathing Lung function tests, chest x-rays or CT scans, and blood tests are used to diagnose COPD, according to MedlinePlus. The disease is treated with medications such as bronchodilators and inhaled steroids. It's also imperative to stop smoking. In extreme cases, you may need oxygen therapy. ACE Inhibitors ACE inhibitors are medications that are commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure. A common side effect of ACE inhibitors is a dry cough that can occur during the day or night. A study published in 2014 in Clinical and Experimental Hypertension found that ACE inhibitors caused cough in about 20% of the people that participated. A medication-related cough begins a few weeks after starting these meds, Dr. Parsons said. So you may not realize that your cough is related to the medication. If your cough is mild, you may be okay switching to a different ACE inhibitor, Dr. Parsons said. Still, if it's severe, you'll want to switch entirely to another type of blood pressure medicine, such as an angiotensin receptor blocker or ARB, like Cozaar. 10 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection that occurs in the lungs. Pneumonia can cause: Phlegmy coughFeverChillsTrouble breathingChest pain when coughing or breathing in deeply Your healthcare provider can usually tell if you have pneumonia by listening to your chest with a stethoscope. However, they may order an x-ray and blood tests to determine if it's viral or bacterial, Dr. Parsons said. Treatment for bacteria pneumonia is antibiotics, according to MedlinePlus. If it's viral, the only remedy is rest and over-the-counter cough medicine. Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection that occurs in the respiratory system. Coughing is the main symptom of pertussis and can become violent, especially at night. The first symptoms resemble the common cold: stuffy, runny nose, watery eyes, fever, and cough. But after about a week, the classic coughing signs emerge, with hacking so intense you may throw up or turn red or blue, Dr. Parsons said. Pertussis is very contagious, but luckily, there is a vaccine to prevent the spread. The CDC reports that cases of pertussis often peak every few years or so. In 2012 there were more than 48,000 cases. Pertussis is diagnosed with blood tests or by taking a mucus sample. It's treated with antibiotics. How To Stop Coughing at Night So You Can Get Some Sleep Summary Coughing may be interrupting your nighttime routine. There are several explanations for why you are coughing at night. Maybe you have inflamed airways, mucus dripping down your throat, or stomach acid backing into your esophagus. If you are taking ACE inhibitors, coughing may be a side effect of that medication. Nighttime coughing could also be due to COPD, pneumonia, or pertussis. Whatever the cause, it is important to consult a healthcare provider to figure out what is causing this nighttime cough. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Lucanska M, Hajtman A, Calkovsky V, Kunc P, Pecova R. Upper airway cough syndrome in pathogenesis of chronic cough. Physiol Res. 2020 Mar 27;69(Suppl 1):S35-S42. doi:10.33549/physiolres.934400 Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Rhinitis (nasal allergies). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn how to control asthma. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). MedlinePlus. COPD. MedlinePlus. ACE inhibitors. Sato A, Fukuda S. A prospective study of frequency and characteristics of cough during ACE inhibitor treatment. Clin Exp Hypertens. 2015;37(7):563-8. doi:10.3109/10641963.2015.1026040 MedlinePlus. Pneumonia. MedlinePlus. Whooping cough. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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