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Morning Coughs

What is my morning cough all about?

We all know that tickly throats and mucus moments can occur any time and any place (e.g., a crowded airplane, your kiddo’s piano recital or during a classroom lecture). But coughing spells often happen first thing in the morning. And they can happen for a variety of reasons.


Why are coughs worse in the morning?

Coughing is the body’s natural defense mechanism to clear out mucus, microorganisms and foreign particles from your respiratory system. When you sleep at night, phlegm and other irritants can settle in your lungs and throat. When the body wakes and becomes active, the phlegm begins to break up and can trigger a coughing spell.

Normal reflexes also slow down when you sleep—including the need to cough.


What causes morning coughs?

Morning coughs are a common health issue and can happen for a variety of reasons. Here are the most common causes of a nagging morning cough:

  • Post-nasal drip or congestion. When excess mucus from the nose builds up, it needs to go somewhere. When it drains down the back of the throat, it can cause an upper airway cough. Post-nasal drip is probably the most common cause of morning coughs and is often a biproduct of a cold or flu or allergies.

  • Dry mouth. Your mouth and throat can become parched at night, especially if you don’t drink enough fluids, sleep in a dry room or snooze with your mouth open. In the morning, it’s not unusual to wake up with a hoarse voice and burning feeling in your throat.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). When stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, it can cause a burning, painful sensation and frequent heartburn. Some people experience symptoms at night if they eat shortly before heading to bed, which may lead to hoarseness or coughing in the morning.

  • Asthma. Wheezing and breathlessness are typical symptoms of asthma. But this chronic condition can also cause coughing and excess mucus production.

  • Chronic bronchitis. Inflammation of the bronchial tubes can narrow airways and increase the production of mucus. This usually occurs when someone is a smoker or is exposed to high levels of air pollutants.

  • Smoking. Toxins in the lungs accumulate when people take a break from smoking at night. The body’s natural response is to cough them out in the morning

Less common causes may cause a linger morning cough, including:

  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), a chronic and progressive inflammatory disease that causes airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.
  • Lung infections
  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Environmental irritants

Morning coughs may also be an indicator of COVID-19, especially if you have other symptoms, including fever, headache, and loss of taste or smell. Even when you no longer test positive for the virus, it’s not unusual to continue coughing up phlegm.


How can I treat a morning cough at home?

If your cough is caused by postnasal drip, home remedies can offer relief, including:

  • Nonprescription decongestants or antihistamines
  • Saline nose spray
  • A humidifier to add moisture to the air and lessen the chance of drying out airways 

A few lifestyle changes can also ease or prevent morning cough attacks:

  • Opt for lighters meals and eat at least two hours before bedtime to ease the chance of reflux of stomach acid.
  • Declutter your bedroom. Dust and dust mites around your room and in the bedding might contribute to your morning cough. They can also aggravate asthma.
  • If you smoke, it might be time to quit. Talk with a Indigo Health provider about how to kick the habit.


When should I see a doctor for my cough?

Coughs are bothersome, but they don’t often require treatment. However, if your morning cough doesn’t go away within two or three weeks, it’s a good idea to talk with an Indigo Health provider about what might be going on.

It’s also important to seek medical care if you have any of the following symptoms with your cough:

  • Greenish-yellow phlegm
  • Wheezing
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excess fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you have any of the following symptoms, it’s a good idea to seek emergency medical care. They may be a sign of a serious medical condition.

  • Vomiting
  • Coughing up blood or phlegm with a pink tint
  • Choking
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble swallowing


Indigo Health can ease your morning cough (and peace of mind)

Don’t let a morning cough be a part of your daily wake-up routine. Visit one of our convenient Indigo Health locations or book a video visit from the convenience of home – or wherever you are. We’re here from 8 am to 8 pm every day, even on holidays and weekends.

An Indigo provider will assess your symptoms, go over your medical history, order lab tests, and recommend treatment options or prescribe medication, if necessary.

If you have a chronic condition that’s causing your cough, we will work with you to create a treatment plan to help manage your symptoms. And we’ll follow up with you within a couple of weeks to see how you’re doing.

If your cough indicates something else might be going on and you need a higher level of care, our Indigo team will streamline a referral to a specialist.

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