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The Real Cause of Nighttime Cough

As the children head back to school from their spring break and share stories of amazing trips and fun adventures, they also share their germs, bacteria, and viruses.  One of the most common illness we treat during this time of year is upper respiratory infection.  Unfortunately, upper respiratory infections are difficult to overcome, and frustrating to treat as both a mom and pediatrician.  The most common complaint with this type of infection is the terrible nighttime cough. For most children, the cough is tolerable during the day, but worsens at night keeping most parents and children up all night long.  To overcome nighttime cough, it is important to understand what is causing it…the answer might surprise you!

What causes nighttime cough?  Most people believe that nighttime cough is caused by congestion in the chest, but really the cough is being caused by the congestion that is in the nose! There are several reasons that a cough seems to get so much worse at night, but one of the biggest factors is post nasal drip.

  • Gravity– The biggest reason we cough more at night is simple, gravity! The congestion in your nose drips back and pools in the back of your throat. This stimulates a cough reflex which is our body’s attempt to prevent the mucus from going into our lungs.
  • A dry environment– Dry air can aggravate an already irritated nose and throat, making your nighttime cough even worse.

How do I stop the nighttime cough so my child (and I) can sleep? 

This is an extremely difficult battle to win, but I will give you my best tips that I use for my children and suggest to my patient’s parents to help with nighttime cough. Please understand that this will not eliminate nighttime cough, but these tips will definitely help give you and your child some peace, quiet, and much needed sleep.

  • Honey.  Honey has been scientifically proven to help with cough. So, if your child is over the age of 1, give them a warm cup of water with buckwheat honey after dinner.
  • Steam.  After the honey, it is time for steam. The best way to accomplish this is by creating your own steam room. Go into your bathroom, shut the door, and put the shower on hot to create steam. It is imperative that you keep your child away from the water source to prevent burns. Sit with your child in the bathroom for up to 15 minutes. The steam helps break up the mucus.
  • Saline Spray and Boogie Wipes.  A good nasal spray is imperative to overcoming nighttime cough.  Getting rid of the nasal congestion will help prevent post nasal drip, which will improve the nighttime cough.  Boogie Wipes has an amazing nasal spray that helps break down congestion and clear the nasal passages.  Boogie Wipes also has a new grape scent that makes it easier for children to use, and less painful for us parents.  After administering the Boogie Wipes spray, wait 15 minutes and then have your child blow their nose.  Use Boogie Wipes gentle saline wipes to wipe your children’s nose.  They are gentle and help ease irritation.  The saline wipes come in grape scent too!
  • Humidifier.  Putting moisture into the air is one of the best ways to treat a congested baby. However, you have to make sure the water is fresh and sterile to prevent bacteria and germs being expelled into the air.  Use a cool mist humidifier rather than warm to prevent burns.
  • Eucalyptus Oil.  A centuries-old natural remedy for nasal congestion.  Make a great DIY vapor rub by combining 4 drops of eucalyptus in an ounce of coconut oil.  Just make sure to keep the eucalyptus oil out of the hands of small children.  It can be extremely dangerous if ingested by a child.
  • Elevation.  Elevate your child’s head using a pillow.  If your child is too young for a pillow, put something under the mattress to raise the side of the mattress where they rest their head.  It helps to fight against the forces of gravity.

Make sure to take all of these steps before putting your child to sleep.  There are many reasons for a child’s cough, some benign but some serious.  Always have your child checked by their pediatrician when they have a cough.

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