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Morning Cough: Its Possible Causes

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Coughing is the body's way of clearing irritants from the lungs and could be brought on by an illness, allergy, or asthma can all cause a morning cough.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At May 26, 2023
Reviewed AtDecember 13, 2023

Introduction

A morning cough is a type of cough that occurs in the morning or shortly after waking up. It is typically a dry cough and is often accompanied by a feeling of tightness in the chest. A morning cough can be caused by several conditions, such as allergies, asthma, acid reflux, infections, or even the common cold. In some cases, the cause may be unknown. Treating the underlying condition is usually the best way to reduce or eliminate morning cough.

Why Coughs Are Worse In the Morning?

Coughing is a natural reflex that helps to keep the airways clear, but many people experience worse coughing in the morning. This phenomenon is known as morning cough, and it can range from mild to severe. There are a few possible causes for why the cough may be worse in the morning.

  • The possible explanation that lying flat can allow mucus to accumulate in the airways, leading to increased coughing when a person wakes up. Additionally, conditions such as asthma and allergies can worsen in the morning due to higher levels of pollen or allergens in the air.

  • Another common cause of morning cough is acid reflux. When people lie down at night, acid can flow back up their esophagus and irritate the throat, which can cause a persistent cough.

  • Infections such as bronchitis, sinusitis, or the common cold can all cause increased coughing in the morning due to increased mucus production overnight.

It is essential to talk to the doctor if the morning cough is persistent or if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. The doctor can help diagnose the cause of the cough and determine the best treatment.

What Causes Morning Cough?

A morning cough can be brought on by a variety of factors. Here are some most common causes of morning coughs and may include:

1. Allergies: Allergies can be a major cause of morning coughs. Allergens, such as dust, mold, pet dander, and pollen can irritate the airways and cause the body to release histamine, a chemical that causes coughing. If the cough appears seasonally during pollen or ragweed season, then allergies may be the cause. Allergy medications, such as antihistamines, can help reduce the symptoms of coughing. In some cases, allergy shots may be necessary to reduce the sensitivity to allergens.

2. Asthma: Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs that can cause coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Asthma is one of the most common causes of morning cough, as it tends to be worse in the early morning hours when airways tend to be more sensitive. Asthma can also worsen with exercise or cold air. For the asthma patients, the doctor prescribes rescue inhalers or asthma medicine for asthma attacks to reduce the inflammation in the airways.

3. Congestion or Postnasal Drip: Congestion and postnasal drip can be a major cause of morning coughs. When our sinuses become congested, they can irritate the throat and cause us to wake up coughing. This is especially true when one sleeps with their mouth open. Postnasal drip occurs when excess mucus accumulates in the back of our throats, and it can be worsened by environmental triggers like dry air or seasonal allergies. To help reduce congestion or postnasal drip, patients are suggested to use a humidifier, take an antihistamine, or use a nasal spray. Additionally, drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day can help thin out the mucus and make it easier to swallow.

4. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD): It is a condition in which stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, irritating the lining and causing symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain, and coughing. This reflux can become worse in the morning because lying down increases the likelihood of acid flowing back up into the esophagus. It may also be worse if patients are taking certain medications that can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter or if they eat a large meal late at night. If morning cough is caused by GERD, they may also experience symptoms such as hoarseness, a burning sensation in their throat, or a sour taste in their mouth. To reduce GERD-related coughing, the patient can try elevating the head of the bed, avoiding eating too late in the evening, and avoiding spicy and fatty foods.

5. Common Cold: The common cold is one of the most common causes of morning cough. The common cold is a contagious viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. Symptoms typically include a sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and general malaise. Coughing is usually the first symptom to appear and can be the last symptom to disappear.

The virus that causes the common cold replicates in the mucus of the upper respiratory tract and can be spread through coughing, sneezing, contact with contaminated surfaces, or close contact with an infected person. Since there is no cure for the common cold, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and preventing the further spread of the virus. Treatment may include over-the-counter medications, such as decongestants and pain relievers, drinking plenty of fluids, and getting adequate rest.

6. Dry Mouth: A dry mouth or xerostomia is a condition in which the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva to keep the mouth and throat moist. A dry mouth is often associated with a morning cough because dryness can irritate the throat and cause coughing.

Other symptoms of dry mouth include a sore or cracked tongue, feeling thirsty more often, and bad breath. The cause of dry mouth can vary from dehydration to taking certain medications. In any case, staying hydrated and drinking plenty of fluids can help manage the symptoms.

Dry mouth can be managed by chewing sugarless gum or suck on sugar-free hard candy to stimulate the flow of saliva. Additionally, limiting caffeine intake and avoiding alcohol and tobacco may help. If the condition persists, speak to the doctor about ways to treat and manage dry mouth.

Conclusion

A morning cough can be caused by allergies, asthma, congestion, postnasal drip, GERD, or the common cold. If the cough is due to allergies, the doctor may recommend medications such as antihistamines or decongestants. If it is asthma-related, the doctor may suggest inhalers or other medications. In cases of congestion or postnasal drip, a saline nasal rinse can help to clear the airways and reduce irritation. If the cough is related to GERD, then avoiding certain foods and medications that trigger reflux could be helpful. And if the cough is due to a cold or flu, rest and over-the-counter medicines can help relieve symptoms. It may be necessary to get additional testing or to see a specialist such as an allergist or pulmonologist if the systems persists longer or do not show any signs of abatement. The doctor can also discuss lifestyle modifications and other strategies to reduce the severity and frequency of morning cough.

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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