How To Stop Coughing At Night

Honey is not suitable for children under 12 months due to the risk of botulism, a form of food poisoning.

22 ways to relieve a nighttime cough

Coughing can occur at night for various reasons. When it does, it can affect a person’s ability to sleep and get enough rest. But there are ways to relieve a nighttime cough, such as using a humidifier or herbal preparations.

A troublesome cough during the day may seem worse at night, and some coughs worsen when a person lies down. However, various strategies can help a person get a better night’s sleep with a cough.

These strategies include:

  • using a humidifier
  • reducing exposure to allergens
  • managing acid reflux, asthma, and other underlying conditions
  • drinking honey and lemon
  • using medications, including herbal preparations
  • salt water gargle or saline irrigation
  • raising the head
  • quitting smoking or avoiding tobacco smoke

In this article, learn about 22 ways to reduce or ease nighttime coughing. Inlcuding managing the environment, using medications, lifestyle changes, and natural remedies.

person awake with a nighttime cough

Here are some tips that focus on managing the air people breathe, both in the bedroom and during the day.

1. Try to quit smoking

Exposure to tobacco smoke is the most common environmental cause of chronic cough.

Quitting smoking also lowers the risk of a cough as well GERD, asthma, and other causes of a nighttime cough. A person should see an improvement after 8 weeks of quitting.

A doctor can advise on effective ways to quit and how to use aids such as nicotine patches, gum, and medication.

2. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke

According to the American Cancer Society , people who do not smoke but spend time in smoky areas are also at risk of a cough, asthma, various lung diseases, and cancers.

Asking others not to smoke and avoiding smoky areas may help reduce irritation and inflammation.

If a person finds it hard to quit, they can still help protect their household by:

  • avoiding smoking indoors
  • making the car a smoke-free zone
  • avoiding places when out with the family or other household members

3. Try a humidifier

Dry air can irritate the throat and sinuses and make a cough worse. Air conditioning and cooling fans in the summer and heating systems in the winter can make the environment dry.

Using a humidifier at night can add moisture to the air while a person sleeps. This may help soothe the throat and prevent coughing. It is best to use distilled or demineralized water, as tap water can leave particles when it evaporates.

However, too much moisture can contribute to mold growth. Mold can be an allergen and cause more coughing.

A humidity level of about 40–50% is suitable for a bedroom, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

4. Manage allergens

Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a generally harmless substance. Indoor allergens include mold, pet dander, and dust. They can lead to sneezing, stuffiness, and coughing.

Some ways to decrease allergy-related coughing in the bedroom are:

  • using an asthma and allergy-friendly vacuum cleaner once or twice weekly to remove dust
  • putting an allergy cover on the mattress
  • showering before bed to remove outdoor allergens, such as pollen
  • keeping pets out of the bedroom

5. Reducing dust

Dust in the bedroom can make symptoms worse at night.

Here are some tips for reducing dust and dust mites, another common allergen:

  • avoiding wall-to-wall carpets, soft furniture, stuffed toys, and other items that collect dust
  • washing bedding in hot water once a week
  • ventilating the space
  • preventing damp, as mold increases dust

6. Keep windows closed

Depending on where a person lives, keeping the windows closed may help reduce allergic reactions and coughing at night.

Keeping the windows closed may help eliminate dust, air pollution, and pollen from the sleeping area.

7. Use an air filter

Air filters and air purifiers can help remove particles from the air.

Research from 2020 looked at the effect of using air filters in the bedroom for 6 weeks on people with allergic rhinitis.

Results suggested that an air purifier fitted with a HEPA filter can significantly lower both the concentration of particles in the air and the need for medication in people with this condition.

8. Raise the head of the bed

Coughing often worsens at night because a person is lying flat in bed. Mucus can pool in the back of the throat and cause coughing.

Sleeping with the head elevated can reduce the symptoms of postnasal drip and GERD. Both can cause coughing at night.

One study suggests that raising the head of the bed may be a safe alternative to using GERD medications, although more studies are needed.

A person can prop up the head of their bed using:

  • an adjustable bed
  • additional pillows
  • blocks under the legs of the bed
  • a back wedge

A change in sleep position can allow mucus to flow without causing coughing.

There are many herbal and natural remedies for a cough. Always check first with a doctor, as there is not enough scientific research to confirm that many natural remedies are effective and safe, and they may interact with other therapies.

Remedies such as essential oils and honey will not cure an underlying condition. A person with a severe cough will need medical treatment, too.

9. Drink lemon with honey

Drinking lemon with honey before bed may help soothe the throat and reduce irritation. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, it has a similar effect to cough medicines.

Honey is not suitable for children under 12 months due to the risk of botulism, a form of food poisoning.

10. Ivy leaf

Some cough mixtures contain natural expectorants, such as the extract of ivy leaf (Hedera helix).

A 2020 study involving 118 people concluded that using ivy leaf cough syrup for 7 days improved symptoms of acute bronchitis and various cough-associated sleep disorders. It may be a safe and effective therapy for both children and adults.

Ivy leaf appears to loosen and thin mucus in the same way as acetylcysteine, another treatment for managing mucus, but with fewer side effects.

11. Thyme and primrose

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is an herb with antispasmodic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antioxidant properties. The active ingredient in thyme is thymol.

Primrose (Primula officinalis) also has similar properties and is also an expectorant, helping the body expel mucus.

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In 2016, researchers found that a medication containing primrose, thyme, and thymol effectively reduced cough in people with respiratory tract infections.

12. Essential oils

Essential oils may help reduce cough and other symptoms of bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and other upper respiratory tract infections.

Oils of the following plants have shown promise in reducing cough:

Add a few drops of eucalyptus or peppermint to water and use for inhalation.

Always check first with a doctor, as essential oils may not be safe for everyone. It is also crucial to follow the instructions for each oil and to use them correctly. Always keep them out of reach of children and pets.

Although research suggests that essential oils may have some health benefits, it is important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of these. A person should talk with a healthcare professional before using essential oils, and they should be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. A person should always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

13. Gargle with warm salt water before bed

Many people use a saltwater gargle to ease a sore or irritated throat. There is some evidence that it may help prevent or manage infections by flushing out unwanted particles and pathogens from the throat.

In 2021, some scientists concluded that using a saltwater gargle may help manage COVID-19, but more studies are needed.

To make a saltwater gargle, a person can mix a teaspoon of salt in about 6 ounces of warm water and gargle a few times before bed. A person should spit out the saltwater after gargling.

14. Use a saline nasal spray

A doctor may recommend a saline or steroid nasal spray to irrigate the nasal passages and the upper airway. A saline spray contains a specially prepared solution of salt and water.

A saline nasal spray may help :

  • flush out particles in the nasal passages
  • remove mucus and pathogens from the back of the throat
  • manage chronic inflammatory conditions, such as sino-rhinitis
  • prevent upper respiratory tract infections

According to a 2015 review , there is not enough evidence to prove that irrigating with a saline solution is effective. However, some trials have shown it can reduce nasal secretions, improve nasal breathing, and lower the need for medications.

Research from 2017 looked at data for 45 people with a dust mite allergy who used normal saline nasal-pharyngeal irrigation for 30 days. At the end of the study period, they reported better relief from their cough with normal saline compared with nasal corticosteroids.

15. NetiKriya

This is a yoga-based treatment and one of the six cleansing techniques, or Shatkarmas, of Hatha yoga.

Similar to saltwater gargle or saline irrigation, the practice of Jala Neti uses a neti pot, a small pot filled with lukewarm saltwater with a spout for inserting the water into the nose.

In NetiKriya, a person takes the water into one side of the nose and then blows it back out through the other side of the nose.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests the following technique for using a neti pot:

  1. Leaning over a sink, tilt the head sideways so that the forehead and chin are level.
  2. Insert the spout into the upper nostril while breathing through the mouth.
  3. Allow the water to drain down through the lower nostril.
  4. Clear the nostrils and repeat on the other side.

It is an ancient practice that may help manage rhinosinusitis, a common cause of a cough.

The use of neti pots may not be safe for everyone, and people should check first with a doctor before using one. Always use purified water, as there is a risk of infection with tap water.

The FDA also urges people to ensure their hands and all equipment are clean.

NetiKriya is not suitable for those susceptible to ear infections.

How can I stop a coughing attack?

A coughing attack can happen for various reasons, and there are several things a person can do for relief. These include taking antihistamines, using cough medicines, and avoiding smoking and other triggers. Tackling the underlying cause is usually the best option.

Coughing is a symptom of many different health conditions. Some of these conditions are relatively harmless, while others are much more severe.

This article outlines the different types of coughs and lists the most common causes of acute and chronic coughs. It also provides information on how to stop a coughing attack, diagnose a cough, and when to see a doctor.

a person holding a mug of hot water that they are going to sip because that is how to stop a coughing attack

There are several methods a person can try to stop a coughing attack when one begins. These include:

  • drinking plenty of water
  • sipping hot water with honey
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines
  • taking a steamy shower
  • using a humidifier in the home

Many coughs occur due to dryness or irritation in the throat. The methods listed above can all help relieve dryness and irritation if present.

A cough can also be a symptom of an underlying health condition. In these instances, treating the underlying condition should stop the cough.

How to stop infants from coughing

Children and infants who have a cough should drink plenty of water. This will help soothe the throat and minimize coughing.

Placing a cool mist vaporizer or humidifier next to a child’s bed can help alleviate nighttime coughing.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend giving OTC cough medicines to children under 2 years of age.

Additionally, people should not give honey to infants under 1 year of age, as it can lead to an illness called infant botulism.

Many different health conditions can cause a cough. It can be helpful to understand the different types of coughs to identify the condition.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), healthcare practitioners classify coughs as follows:

  • Acute cough: This is a cough that comes on suddenly and lasts up to 3 weeks.
  • Subacute cough: This is a cough that comes on suddenly and lasts around 3–8 weeks.
  • Chronic cough: This is a cough that lasts longer than 8 weeks.
  • Productive cough: This is a cough that produces phlegm.
  • Dry cough: This cough does not produce phlegm.
  • Nocturnal cough: This is a cough that only occurs at night.
  • Hemoptysis: This is when a person is coughing up blood or blood-stained mucus from their lungs.

The following are some common causes of acute coughs.

COVID-19

During the current pandemic, a dry cough, which is a symptom of COVID-19, may be a concern for some people. This is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are:

Most people who contract SARS-CoV-2 will develop mild symptoms. However, some may develop severe and even life threatening symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people to seek emergency medical treatment if they develop any of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing
  • persistent pressure or pain in their chest
  • confusion or an inability to arouse
  • blue discoloration of the lips or face, or cyanosis

Upper respiratory tract infections

An upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) is a viral or bacterial infection of one or more of the following:

  • the nose
  • the sinuses
  • the pharynx, which is the part of the throat that sits behind the mouth and nasal cavity
  • the larynx, or voicebox
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Some examples of URTIs include:

A cough is a common symptom of URTIs. Other common symptoms include:

  • a sore throat
  • headaches
  • nasal congestion, or a runny nose
  • sneezing
  • pressure in and around the face
  • a low grade fever
  • muscle aches

Lower respiratory tract infections

Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) affect the lungs’ large airways. Some examples include bronchitis and pneumonia.

Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchi, the lungs’ main airways. The primary symptom of bronchitis is a dry or productive cough. A productive cough may produce green, yellow, or blood-tinged mucus.

Other symptoms include:

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. It typically causes a dry or productive cough.

Some other common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • rapid and shallow breathing
  • shortness of breath, even when resting
  • chest pain that worsens when breathing or coughing
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • a fever and chills
  • a loss of appetite

Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, occurs when a person’s immune system overreacts to something in the environment.

Common environmental allergy triggers, or allergens, include:

People with allergic rhinitis may experience a dry cough due to breathing in an allergen. Some other potential symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • nasal congestion
  • sneezing
  • itchy eyes, nose, mouth, or throat
  • swollen eyelids

Inhaling irritants

A person may develop an acute cough after breathing in certain environmental irritants. Examples include:

  • cigarette smoke
  • diesel fumes
  • perfumes or colognes

Inhaling irritants can cause symptoms similar to those of allergic rhinitis.

The sections below outline some of the more common causes of a chronic cough.

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. This narrowing makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulties.

There is no cure for asthma, but treatments are usually effective in managing the condition. If a person does not control the condition well, however, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • coughing fits
  • wheezing
  • a tight feeling in the chest
  • shortness of breath

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of chronic lung conditions that obstruct airflow in and out of the lungs.

COPD can inflame and thicken the airways within the lungs, and it can damage the lung tissue responsible for exchanging gases.

Chronic coughing and shortness of breath are common symptoms of COPD. Other possible signs and symptoms of COPD include:

  • wheezing
  • excessive mucus production
  • frequent respiratory infections
  • cyanosis of the lips or fingernail beds
  • fatigue

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer type in the United States. It occurs when cells divide uncontrollably in the lungs, causing tumors to grow. Tumors can cause breathing difficulties, and spread to other parts of a person’s body.

People with lung cancer may not have symptoms until the disease is at an advanced stage.

According to the CDC , a lingering cough that may gradually worsen is a possible symptom. Other potential symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Unexplained weight loss

Medications

A cough can sometimes be a side effect of certain medications.

A cough is one of the most common adverse side effects of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs). Doctors sometimes prescribe these to treat high blood pressure.

According to a 2012 case report , the antiepileptic drug, topiramate may also cause a dry cough, but this is rare.

To prevent a coughing fit, a person will need to identify and treat the underlying cause of the cough.

People with chronic respiratory conditions will require medical treatments to reduce the frequency and severity of coughing fits.

Those who develop coughing fits in response to certain allergens or irritants should try limiting their exposure to those substances.

Another option for people with allergies is to take antihistamines. These drugs help suppress the immune system’s response to environmental allergens, thereby preventing coughing fits.

Quitting smoking will also help prevent coughing episodes.

Coughing is a common symptom of a variety of health conditions.

According to the ALA, a person should take note of the duration, type, and features of their cough when speaking with a healthcare professional to assist with diagnosis.

A healthcare professional may ask about a person’s medical history, the nature of the cough, whether the cough gets worse or better in certain settings, and if they have any additional symptoms.

Examples of questions a doctor may ask a person include:

  • When did your cough start?
  • Does the cough produce mucus?
  • What is the color and consistency of the mucus?
  • Is there blood in the mucus?
  • Do you have allergies or cough triggers?
  • Have you been in contact with people with respiratory infections, such as the common cold, tuberculosis, pneumonia, or whooping cough?
  • Do you have any known medical illnesses?
  • Do you smoke tobacco or cannabis, vape, or use drugs?

If a person is experiencing other symptoms, such as chest pains, difficulty breathing, headaches, drowsiness, confusion, fever, and they are coughing up blood then a doctor may prescribe further tests.

Tests can include:

  • blood tests
  • imaging tests, such as a CT scan or chest X-ray
  • spirometry or methacholine challenge test

A person should see a doctor if their cough is severe, persistent, or worsens over time. These characteristics can indicate that a person requires medical treatment.

Parents and caregivers should also speak to a doctor if their child displays any of the following symptoms:

  • a fever of any kind in an infant under 3 months of age
  • a fever of 102°F (38.9ºC) or higher in a child of any age
  • cyanosis of the lips
  • wheezing
  • difficult or labored breathing
  • a loss of appetite or thirst
  • excessive sleepiness
  • excessive irritability
  • a cough that lasts longer than 3 weeks

Also, anyone who develops bothersome symptoms of COVID-19 should contact their doctor. If the symptoms are severe, they need immediate medical attention.

There are several steps a person can take to stop or manage a cough. These include drinking plenty of water, taking over-the-counter cough medicines, and using an indoor humidifier.

There are several health conditions that can cause a cough. Some are relatively harmless and tend to go away on their own. Others are much more severe and may require medical treatment.

A person should talk with a doctor if they develop a severe, persistent, or worsening cough. A person should also contact a doctor if they or their child develop any other concerning symptoms.

A doctor will work to identify the cause of the symptoms and prescribe appropriate treatments.

Last medically reviewed on June 29, 2022

  • Allergy
  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Respiratory
  • Infectious Diseases / Bacteria / Viruses
  • COVID-19

How we reviewed this article:

Medical News Today has strict sourcing guidelines and draws only from peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical journals and associations. We avoid using tertiary references. We link primary sources — including studies, scientific references, and statistics — within each article and also list them in the resources section at the bottom of our articles. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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