It’s never pleasant to have a cough and sore throat. It’s painful, annoying, and distracting. Not only that, but all that loud coughing can be quite embarrassing, too. The more you cough, the more irritated your throat becomes. That’s why you cough even more.
Coughing is bad enough during the day when you’re trying to go about your daily routine. But, the worst part comes when you lie down at night. It’s difficult to nod off when every few minutes you expel air from your lungs at 50 miles an hour. Once you do drop off, there’s every chance that your coughing will wake you up in the night.
Fortunately, it’s not a lost cause. There are many treatment options for tackling a cough and sore throat. Several types of medication are available, as well as home remedies. So, read on to find the solutions to your sleeplessness.
What Causes Sore Throats and Severe Coughing at Night?
Uncontrollable coughing at night can have many different causes, though some are more common than others. The first step to getting rid of it is to find out what’s triggering it.
Here are the six most common causes of sore throats and coughing at night:
- The most prevalent viruses are the common cold and influenza (the flu). If you have a virus, you’ll usually have more symptoms than just a cough and sore throat. These could include a runny or blocked nose, painful sinuses, head and body aches and general malaise. With the flu, you may also have a fever and chills. Chest infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, sometimes occur after a cold or the flu. Along with a chesty cough you might suffer from shortness of breath, wheezing, headache, chest pain, and fever.
- If you have a long-term lung disease, you might experience a cough quite regularly. Other symptoms include breathlessness, wheezing, and a tight or squeezing feeling in the chest.
- It’s possible that you’re suffering a reaction to an allergen in the home. These could include pollen, dust mites, cleaning products, air fresheners or pet hair.
- Smoke, including second-hand smoke, irritates the throat and lungs. If you or anyone in your household smokes, this may be causing your coughing and sore throat.
- Acid reflux. This is a condition where stomach acid travels up the esophagus. It can cause a cough along with a burning sensation in the chest. You may also have a bad taste in your mouth, hiccups or nausea.
How to Stop Coughing Attacks at Night with Medicine
Your cough is most likely being caused by a virus, such as the common cold.
Now that you know what the problem is, what can you do about it? Usually, the primary treatment is time. However, there are some medicines which help ease the symptoms and can rid you of your cough faster. Taking these medications before bed can help reduce coughing during the night.
Be aware that some cough remedies can react with certain conditions or medications. Always read the guidelines before taking medicine.
Decongestants are a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold remedies. They’re often found in cough medicine, capsules, and nasal sprays. Common examples to look out for are phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine.
The way that decongestants work is by relieving a stuffy or blocked nose. They constrict the blood vessels in the nasal tissue, reducing swelling. This opens up the airways, letting more air flow through your nose. The result is drier nasal tissue, and less mucus dripping into your throat (postnasal drip).
Mucus in the throat can be a cause of coughing if you have a cold or the flu. So with less mucus, you’re less likely to cough.
2. Cough Suppressants
Cough suppressants are also known as antitussives. They are commonly used in cough syrups marketed for use at night. The most well-known are dextromethorphan and codeine.
As the name suggests, they work by suppressing the cough reflex. Cough suppressants won’t treat the cause of a cough; they reduce the urge to cough. If you’re struggling to get to sleep at night, cough suppressants may be helpful.
Cough suppressants are recommended for dry, unproductive coughs caused by irritation to the throat or airway. If your cough is productive, however (you’re coughing up mucus), it may be best not to suppress your cough.
Expectorants are designed for chesty, productive coughs (coughs which bring up mucus). They’re also known as mucolytics. The most commonly used expectorant is guaifenesin, which is found in many mixtures labeled for chesty coughs.
If you have chest congestion due to a virus, infection or allergy, expectorants may help. They work by hydrating your lungs and thinning the mucus which lines them. Thinner, wetter mucus is much easier to cough up than thick, dry mucus.
This means that although you may cough more initially, you’ll have soon coughed up all of your annoying phlegm. Once it’s gone, your cough will be gone, too.
Antihistamines are often used to relieve allergies. When you suffer from an allergic reaction, your body produces a chemical called histamine. This makes the tissues in your nose become inflamed and could lead to nosebleeds during your sleep. This can result in itching, coughing and sneezing. Antihistamines block the release of histamine, so this doesn’t happen.
Your body also sometimes releases histamine when it detects an infection. By using antihistamines, you can relieve some of the symptoms of a virus, such as coughing.
Antihistamines may not work for everyone, or for every type of a cough. Combined with cough suppressants or decongestants, though, they can be quite effective.
Menthol is a natural compound found in certain essential oils and mint oils, such as peppermint. Even though it’s obtained from nature, it’s not considered an herbal remedy or homeopathic.
The soothing and analgesic effects of menthol are well researched and scientifically established. Menthol creates a cooling sensation by stimulating our body’s ‘cold’ receptors. It’s found in many types of medicine, including cough drops and topical ointments.
According to a study published in Pulmonary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, menthol decreases the sensitivity of the cough reflex. In that way, it’s similar to a cough suppressant, while also providing a cool, soothing sensation.
6. Glycerin-Based Syrups
Glycerin-based cough syrups are designed for dry, non-productive tickly coughs (i.e., you aren’t coughing up any mucus). You might experience this sort of a cough if your throat is irritated due to an allergen.
Sometimes, productive coughs can also turn into dry coughs after you’ve got rid of a cold virus. The lining of the throat can become sore from all the coughing, ironically causing you to cough more.
Glycerin is a humectant, which means it encourages the body to retain moisture. It also acts as a demulcent, which means it forms a soothing film over the throat. A 2017 study in a Swiss Pharmacological Journal found glycerin to be safe and effective for treating coughs.
7. Antibiotics and Antivirals
Usually, a cough caused by a cold or flu lasts around 14 to 18 days. It may seem like a lifetime but, unfortunately, it’s pretty normal. However, if your cough lasts longer than three weeks, you should see a doctor.
Sometimes, coughs can be caused by chest infections. Your doctor will be able to tell you if you have one. Depending on which kind of infection it is, your doctor may prescribe antivirals or antibiotics. Bronchitis is usually viral, whereas pneumonia is bacterial.
If you’re wondering how to fall asleep with a chest infection, antibiotics or antivirals may help. However, you’re still free to follow the rest of our advice as well.
It’s important never to take antibiotics if you have an ordinary cold, flu, or another virus. Antibiotics only kill bacteria, not viruses. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can make your body resistant to them in the future.
How to Stop Coughing at Night Without Medicine
Now you’re familiar with all of the primary medicinal treatments for those pesky coughs. However, medication isn’t the only thing you can do to help yourself. There are plenty of steps you can take at home to soothe your nighttime cough without medicine.
1. Stay Hydrated
Water is one of the most valuable tools for treating a cough. Of course, it’s always important to make sure you drink enough water. But, it’s particularly crucial when you have a cough or cold.
Staying hydrated helps in many different ways:
- It keeps your throat, airways, and lungs nice and moist. Moist airways are far less likely to become irritated and trigger a cough.
- Drinking plenty of water helps to loosen and thin out the mucus in your sinuses and lungs. Thinner, wetter mucus is much easier and quicker to cough up. This means your throat and airways won’t become as irritated.
Stick to clear fluids such as water, fruit teas, and weak cordials. Avoid caffeinated beverages such as soda and coffee, as they can dehydrate you.
How do you tell if you’re hydrated enough? After you use the bathroom, check to see what color your urine is. It should be a clear, pale straw color. If it’s yellow, gold or brown, you aren’t drinking enough.
2. Use a Humidifier
In the same way that staying hydrated can help combat a cold, humidity is also a great tool. If the air in your home is too dry, your airways can become dry and irritated. As we’ve already covered, this isn’t ideal if you have a cough or cold.
Using a humidifier to keep the air in your home moist can work wonders. Just be sure to clean the humidifier after each use, so that mold and mildew can’t grow.
If you don’t have a humidifier, you can also take a long shower and breathe in the steam. Alternatively, fill a basin with hot water and inhale the steam from that. You can even add a couple of drops of menthol to the water. Be careful, though – don’t use boiling water, as you could scald yourself.
3. Prepare a Honey and Lemon Drink
Scientific studies suggest that honey and lemon can relieve coughs. A study in the Canadian Family Physician Journal found that honey acts as an effective cough suppressant. It coats and soothes the throat, relieving irritation.
Lemons contain an abundance of Vitamin C, which plays a vital role in the health of the immune system. A study for the Journal of American Academy of Nurse Practitioners found that Vitamin C consumption reduces the duration of colds.
So, the honey helps you cough less, and the lemon helps rid you of your cold sooner. Mix hot water with two tablespoons of honey and one tablespoon of lemon juice. You can always add more to taste.
4. Suck on Hard Candy
Hard candies work in roughly the same way as honey. As you suck on them, they begin to melt. The melted sugar coats the throat. This keeps it soothed and moist and provides a protective barrier. The result is that you’ll feel less inclined to cough.
You can buy hard candies made explicitly for cough relief. Cough drops typically contain medications such as menthol, anesthetics or cough suppressants. These help in different ways to rid you of your cough. However, if you don’t want to use medication, normal hard candies are soothing enough on their own.
5. Avoid Irritants
If you have a cough, try to avoid exposure to anything that might irritate your throat or nasal passageways. Irritants can make a cough worse, or make it last longer.
Common irritants that you should avoid include:
- Smoke, such as cigarette smoke
- Aerosols and other cleaning products
- Strongly scented laundry detergents
- Scented candles, incense, and plug-in air fresheners
- Spicy foods
- Pet hair
- Air pollution, for example, car exhausts
If possible, when you have a cough, stay inside so that you aren’t exposed to outdoor irritants. Keep your home clean and vacuum regularly, though don’t use strongly scented cleaners or air fresheners. Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke at all costs.
6. Wash Bedlinen Regularly
Sometimes, coughs can be caused (or worsened) by dust mites. These tiny creatures live in our bed linen and feed on dead skin cells, which we shed naturally at night. They’re present in every home, and they aren’t harmful. Unlike bed bugs, they don’t bite and don’t present a hazard to us in any way. However, they can cause allergy symptoms in some people, such as coughing.
The best way to control dust mites is to wash your bed linen regularly. Wash your sheets, blankets, pillowcases, mattress protector and duvet cover at 130 degrees Fahrenheit at least once a week. If your pillows are washable, launder those too. And don’t forget to vacuum and dust your bedroom thoroughly.
What Are the Best Sleep Positions to Stop Coughing?
In the majority of cases, the above remedies will help ease your cough. However, there is one problem: lying down in bed can sometimes make a cough return with full force.
If you’ve been frantically searching “help, I can’t stop coughing when I lay down,” you’re not alone. It happens to everyone. It’s a matter of gravity. Lying flat on your back allows mucus to pool at the back of your throat. This will cause you to cough more.
So, how should you sleep to try and stop the coughing fits?
- Sitting Up: Not everybody can manage to sleep sitting upright. However, if you’re tired enough, and you have a comfy armchair or sofa, give it a go. Sitting up is the absolute best position to sleep in when you have a cough. The mucus won’t be able to pool in your throat, meaning less chance of coughing.
- Extra Pillows: If you can’t get to sleep sitting up, try sleeping with extra pillows instead. The idea is to elevate the top half of your body slightly so that you aren’t lying flat. It won’t be as effective as sitting up, but you’ll still cough less than lying down.
- Raise The Head of Your Bed: Some people struggle to sleep with too many pillows. In that case, find some stone or wooden blocks. Place them under the head of your bed. Your head will still be elevated, but you can sleep with your normal pillow.
How to Soothe Throat Pain Before Bed
Throat pain can be just as hard to sleep with as bad coughing. They usually go hand-in-hand. A sore and irritated throat makes you more likely to cough. Coughing, in turn, makes your throat more painful.
Here are our top ticks and tricks to help soothe your sore throat before settling down to sleep.
1. Warm Liquids
Warm liquids can do wonders for a sore throat. The heat tends to soothe the irritation, lessening the pain. Try hot cocoa, herbal teas such as chamomile, and soup. In fact, chicken soup may be the best option of all. Chicken soup helps more than other hot liquids to reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms. The researchers still aren’t sure why, but if it works, it works.
2. Cold Food and Drink
Along with hot beverages, cold foods and drinks can help calm a sore throat too. Extreme cold helps to reduce swelling, which is why we apply ice packs to injuries. This is a great excuse to raid the goodies in the freezer. Try ice cream, popsicles, iced drinks, and slushes. If you don’t fancy anything to eat, you could even suck on ice cubes. They’ll soothe the swelling as well as keeping you hydrated.
3. Gargle with Salt Water
Salt is an amazing tool for easing the pain of a sore throat. Create a salt water solution by adding half a teaspoon of salt to an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Simply gargle with it and spit it out afterward. The salt helps to ease the pain, flush out the virus, and reduce swelling. It also loosens mucus. Do this several times a day, and you’ll notice your pain lessening.
4. Throat Lozenges
There are many brands of throat lozenge on the market. Look for the ones that contain an anesthetic, rather than flavored cough drops. Anesthetic is extremely effective at getting rid of throat pain. Be sure to read the pack first, as you may only be able to take a certain amount per day.
Ordinary painkillers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can help a sore throat. They work by dampening pain signals to your brain, which is why they work for many different kinds of pain. Take some about 30 minutes before bed. By the time you’re ready to go to sleep, the pain should be less distracting.
6. Herbal Remedies
If you aren’t keen to use medication, herbal therapies are a possible alternative. Certain herbs might work better than others, so don’t be afraid to try different kinds. Examples of herbs that claim to help a sore throat are Echinacea, marshmallow root and slippery elm. Thyme is even purported to help soothe coughs, too.
If you follow our advice on how to soothe a cough and sore throat, you should be getting back to sleep in no time at all. However, if you’re suffering from a severe lack of sleep due to a persistent cough, what should you do?
Firstly, get as much rest as you’re able to. If you’re severely sleep deprived, you should take time off work until you feel better. Depending on your job, working while exhausted could be dangerous. You should avoid driving a car if you feel drowsy.
Take naps whenever you feel tired, even during the day. Getting to sleep with a cough is far easier when you’re tired. So if you feel sleepy, take advantage of it. Remember to sleep on an incline, stay hydrated, and don’t overexert yourself during the day.
Natural sleep remedies can also be of use, such as lavender oil, valerian root and melatonin capsules. However, be aware that some sleep aids can interfere with other medicines you may be taking. If your cough and sore throat don’t go away after 18 days, visit your doctor. They’ll be able to rule out anything more serious.