Why does my cough get worse at night?
July 8, 2006 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Why do I only cough at night?

I'm living in Incheon, which is a city west of Seoul. I've heard that most people, when coming here for the first time, catch a cold ("The Cold", I've heard it called), and that the air pollution causes coughing.

I'm pretty sure I cought The Cold, because the first two weeks I was here I was sick. But then after I got over it, I started with a really bad cough. I'll cough a couple of times throughout the day, but then at night, when I'm trying to sleep, it really gets going. It gets so bad that I can't sleep for hours.

I went to a doctor and in true Korean fashion, was given nine hundred different pills to take, including antibiotics. The cough has improved somewhat, but I'm still suffering at nights.

Why does my cough get worse at night?
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
That's rough. Coughing can be caused by anything, including (just to throw it out there) asthma. If you've noticed sometimes in the past that you'll catch a cold, get better, but keeping coughing for a while afterward, you may have mild asthma. In that case, catching The Cold may have put your lungs on alert level Orange and then some sort of environmental trigger in your bedroom might cause you to cough throughout the night.

If antibiotics are not making it better and you have any history of being allergic to anything, you may want to find an allergist. As a quick & dirty test, maybe try sleeping in a different room, in a hotel or in a different city for a weekend and see if your cough gets better.

Further down the allergy path: many naturopaths feel that diet is always linked to allergies. That is, your new Incheon diet may include ingredients that you're mildly allergic to but have never really eaten before. That may also help elevate the status of an otherwise very mild case of asthma.

And one last disclaimer: I have zero medical training, but i know several doctors (to whom I've rarely spoken about asthma).
posted by hammurderer at 7:08 PM on July 8, 2006

Where I live, the mold gets high at night because the humidity gets higher. Could you have a mold allergy?
posted by Addlepated at 7:12 PM on July 8, 2006

I have the same problem, and though I now smoke (I know!), it was a problem even as a child. It seems to me to have to do with being prone. It also gets worse just as I fall asleep, as if the muscles in my throat relaxing is also a factor. It seems to help if I elevate my head on two pillows, or elevate the bed itself at the head end. Night coughing can be absolutely maddening; I feel for you.
posted by thebrokedown at 7:25 PM on July 8, 2006

Could your appartment have mold in it? You're probably there at night and not during the day.
posted by furtive at 7:33 PM on July 8, 2006

I think the simple reason coughs are worse at night is that you're horizontal. Gravity doesn't help keep the phlegm down deep, so even shallow breaths irritate the lungs.

Consistent coughs can be symptoms of lots of things, so do keep an eye out for anything else out of the ordinary. I had a chronic night time cough that I didn't take seriously which turned out to be lymphoma...
posted by mdn at 7:43 PM on July 8, 2006

When I had a persistent non-productive [no phlegm] nighttime cough that would not go away and I went to a doctor in the US and he said it was asthma. My inhaler stopped it completely. I have no idea if this is what is troubleing you, but it's a possibility.
posted by jessamyn at 7:50 PM on July 8, 2006

Night coughing can also be casued acid reflux aggrevated by lying down. I had this problem. I stopped eating 3 hours before bedtime and started taking acid blockers. No more cough.
posted by humanfont at 8:06 PM on July 8, 2006

Possibly asthma. Asthma tends to be worse at night, and some asthmatics are "coughers" instead of wheezers, (myself included).
posted by 6:1 at 8:35 PM on July 8, 2006

Also, do you have a lot of books in your room (particularly old paperbacks)? I went through a hellish phase of nighttime coughing a few years back, and at my sister's suggestion (whose own asthma had been triggered similarly) I hauled most of my books into the living room and started seeing an improvement within a day.
posted by scody at 9:53 PM on July 8, 2006

When I moved to Japan I got a cough that stayed for about a month. It got terribly worse when I was lying down trying to sleep and I would cough almost uncontrollably. I went for chest x-rays and other tests, but found nothing. They started me on Claratin once a day and it eventually went away.
posted by jimdanger at 10:26 PM on July 8, 2006

I had a lingering cough after a cold (I'm talking lingering for around 3 months) and it was worse at night. I'm not sure why, perhaps it was a physical thing about lying down, or a metabolic thing about nighttime. Never found out. Eventually, it did go away. But it was bothersome for a hell of a long time. Way longer than any "cold" I'd ever had. Best of luck kicking yours.

An allergen check is a good suggestion too. You can test for that somewhat by trying over-the-counter allergy medications to see if they have an impact.
posted by scarabic at 11:35 PM on July 8, 2006

I think the simple reason coughs are worse at night is that you're horizontal.

Yeah, pile a few pillows up and try sleeping with the upper half of your body a bit more upright than you usually would. It's not necessary to sleep sitting up entirely, but propping yourself up a bit should help with the cough.
posted by amro at 7:00 AM on July 9, 2006

I spent a month in the RoK last October, and my usually asymptomatic asthma was horrible for that month (I was down around Gunsan). A Primatene inhaler and OTC allergy medicine helped but didn't totally fix the problem. Worse at night--as I recall, it was worse late in the day even before I was lying prone, but I don't know whether that was as a result of relative activity levels, an environmental factor, or something else entirely.
posted by Cricket at 9:12 AM on July 9, 2006

Have you changed medications recently? Some meds (like Coversyl) have a night cough as a side-effect.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:54 PM on July 9, 2006

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