A dry cough at night can be disruptive to sleep, overall health and general wellbeing. It’s not so pleasant on those around us either!1,2 So why might we develop a dry cough? There can be a number of reasons, from infections to heartburn, certain allergies and even exposure to irritants like smoke or other chemicals.1,3 So, when a dry cough strikes at night, here are some tips to help relieve the discomfort at home.
But let’s start by looking at the different types of coughs, why coughs may be worse at night and what are some home remedies that may help make you feel more comfortable.
Wet Coughs vs Dry Coughs
We talk about different types of coughs in terms of how long they last and whether they are dry or productive.1,4 If you have had a cough for less than 3 weeks, it is called an acute cough. Coughs that last longer should be checked out by a doctor. In some cases, a cough may last for several weeks.1 Then there’s how wet or dry the cough can be. A wet cough is also called a productive cough. This simply means when you cough, you bring up sputum or mucus. A dry cough is – you guessed it – dry. No or very little sputum or mucus is brought up with the cough.1
A cough may also be a symptom of many different underlying conditions. If your cough has lasted more than a few days, is getting worse (or not getting better), you should go and see your doctor, as they will be able to decide the most appropriate treatment.1,2 But if you are looking for options to help relieve the cough reflex or discomfort of mild cough at home, there are some options available from your pharmacy that may help.1
Why are Coughs Worse at Night?
We touched on how coughs can be caused by various reasons and sometimes a day cough can seem to be worse as a cough at night.2 Is this true? Can coughs really be worse at night? There may be a number of underlying causes that make you cough more at night, from lying down for longer periods of time to things like reflux, which may occur after a big dinner!2 If it is something you experience and it worries you, speaking with a doctor about coughing at night would be the best action to try and address the cause and find a suitable relief option.2
Home Remedies for Dry Cough at Night
For a cough at night that is impacting your quality sleep and how you feel the next day, it’s best to speak with your doctor who can then make a diagnosis.2 But if you find yourself with the beginnings of a dry cough in the middle of the night, here’s a few things you may be able to do to make yourself more comfortable.
Ensure Your Home is Dust and Hair-Free
Our homes are where we tend to spend quality time with our loved ones, but they can also be a place we share with unwanted dust and dust mites, pollen or discarded pet hair.5 One trigger which can cause coughing at home or coughing at night are dust mites.5 Dust mites are small, microscopic creatures which live in dust in our home and feed on the dead skin cells we or our pets drop.5 Some people have allergies to dust mites and the allergic response is either to the dust mite droppings which are around the size of a pollen grain or the mites themselves.5 Another allergen for some people is what pets might drop such as hair, fur, feathers or even faecal matter.5
Regular cleaning of dust with a High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance filters (HEPA) vacuum, using fine woven fabric or plastic bedding as well as hot washing bedding at least once a week (55-60 °C) may be helpful to avoid a cough at night triggered by dust and other irritants around the home.5,6
Invest in an Air Purifier
Air purifiers work by capturing large particulate matter that is light enough to float in the air.7 This includes dust, pollen, spores, or even dust mites.7 An indoor air purifier which is HEPA filtered may help minimise exposure to triggers of a dry cough at night by reducing the amount of particles in the air in the house or bedroom, that could otherwise be breathed in.7,8 It is important to select a purifier which has a HEPA filter as this will offer the maximum filtration against particles.7,8
Close Windows During Allergy Season
Another way to try and prevent a dry cough at night is by closing windows and doors, using air conditioning systems, having HEPA filtered systems and regularly cleaning surfaces.6 These controls can help reduce dust, pollen or mould spores making their way in the home.6 Also using a face mask during seasons where there is likely to be more wind and dust about might also offer some benefit.6
Consider humidity levels in the home
Depending on the cause of a cough at night, controlling humidity may be helpful.6 If a cough is being set off by dust mites, then lowering humidity with a dehumidifier to 45%-50% may help reduce their optimum conditions for survival. Cold dry air can also affect our airways, increasing the risk of sore throat.9
Try a Spoonful of Honey
Honey can have a soothing effect on a sore throat. 1 Try mixing two spoonfuls in some warm water and sip slowly to help soothe the throat. 12,13 It’s a great on-hand option for adults and children from over the age of 1 year. 13
Sipping Lemon Water
Another at home remedy you can try is to sip some lemon water.12 Lemons have been used around the world as an at-home remedy for coughs for a long time.14 Like honey, lemon water is generally inexpensive to make and easy to do.12 To take, try mixing a few drops of lemon into some warm water and sip before bedtime.
Adjust the Incline of Your Bed
If you have a post-nasal drip, this might be one thing setting off your cough at night.2 For a post-nasal drip, it's best to speak with your doctor or pharmacist.15 At night, when lying flat on your back, the reason a cough may be worse at night is because the position of your head can exacerbate a post-nasal drip.2 Whilst there is little evidence showing what bed position is best to provide relief, discuss with your doctor if they can advise on different positions that might provide some relief from a cough at night.13
Cough in adults. In: Therapeutic Guidelines [digital]. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; Dec. 2020 [cited Sept 2022]. Access from: https://www.tg.org.au
National Library of medicine. StatPearls Publishing LLC [Internet]. Nocturnal Cough: Treasure island (FL). Last Update: Jan. 2022 [Accessed Oct. 2022]. Access from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Jo EJ, & Song WJ. Asia Pac Allergy. 2019; 9(2): e16.
National Library of medicine. StatPearls Publishing LLC [Internet]. Cough: Treasure island (FL). Last Update: Jan. 2022 [Accessed Oct. 2022]. Access from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493221/
National Library of medicine. StatPearls Publishing LLC [Internet]. Dust Mite Allergy: Treasure island (FL). Last Update: Aug. 2022 [Accessed Oct. 2022]. Access from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books
Kalayci et al. World Allergy Organization Journal (2022) 15:100634
Park KH, et al. Yonsei Med J. 2020;61(8):689-97
Jia-Ying L, et al. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr) 2021;49(5):16-24.
Renner B, et al. Inflamm. Res. (2012) 61:1041–52
Am Fam Physician. 2009 November 15; 80(10): 1117–1119
Piromchai P, et al. Laryngoscope Investig Otolaryngol. 2020 Dec; 5(6): 1003–10
Eccles R & Mallet P. Pharmacy (Basel). 2017; 5(1): 4
Commonwealth of Australia. Department of Health. Cough. Sept. 2021. [cited August 2022]. Access from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au
Klimek-Szczykutowicz, M, et al. Plants (Basel). 2020 Jan; 9(1): 119
Commonwealth of Australia. Department of Health. Post nasal Drip. April 2020. [cited Oct.2022]. Access from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au
This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice.
Always read the label and follow the directions for use. RKT-M-06489.