Everything you need to know about your baby's night-time coughing

Causes of a night-time cough can vary from minor infections like a cold to more serious problems like asthma.

If your little one's sleep is broken by symptoms like coughing or wheezing at night, it can be tiring and upsetting for them, and also for you.
When it feels like you have tried everything and yet they are still waking with a cough, it can leave parents feeling helpless.
Causes of a night-time cough can vary from minor infections like a cold to more serious problems like asthma. A night-time cough lasting more than 4 weeks is considered chronic and your little one should be seen by a doctor.
Keeping a cough journal, including frequency, duration, timing and any associated triggers, may be helpful for monitoring a nocturnal cough and aid the doctor in determining if treatment is necessary.

Here are some common causes of a night-time cough:  
Postnasal Drip Syndrome
Postnasal drip occurs when the nose produces excessive amounts of mucus. The mucus may drip out the nose during the day, but when the child lies down at night, mucus collects in the back of the throat, triggering a cough. Postnasal drip syndrome is a common cause of night-time coughing in children. Common causes include breathing cold or dry air, infections like a cold or the flu, allergies and nonallergic rhinitis -- irritated nasal passages typically caused by exposure to environmental irritants such as smoke, pollution or solvents such as cleaning solutions.

Asthma is another common cause of night-time coughing in children. Coughing occurs at night primarily because of changes in the airways that occur with sleep. An asthmatic cough tends to be a dry, hacking cough and is usually accompanied by wheezing. Discuss any signs or symptoms of asthma with your child's doctor. It is difficult to diagnose asthma in young children so keeping a journal can be essential in helping a doctor understand their symptoms.

Why are asthma symptoms often worse at night?
Asthma symptoms are often worse at night because:
  • Lying down can trigger a cough, especially if your child also has a blocked nose or sinuses, or post-nasal drip due to hay fever, allergic rhinitis or a cold
  • The way your child’s body controls inflammation (including in their airways) tends to switch off while they’re asleep
  • Your child may be exposed to allergens at night such as dust mites in bedding or pets sleeping in their bedroom.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs when acid from the stomach leaks upward into the oesophagus. Stomach acid irritates the throat and may cause a cough, which is generally dry. Some children and adults with GERD experience symptoms primarily at night, because stomach contents can flow into the oesophagus more easily while lying down.

When to Seek Medical Attention
Other symptoms occurring with a night-time cough should be discussed with your child's doctor, including fever, a whooping or whistling sound associated with breathing, coughing up blood, chest pain or crankiness. Any cough that persists for more than a few hours in an infant younger than four months or more than three weeks in an older child should be evaluated by your child's doctor. If in doubt, call the doctor. Seek medical attention immediately if your child is working hard to breathe, has trouble speaking due to shortness of breath or has blue lips, face or tongue.

Written by Laura Doyle staff writer at FFHQ who also blogs at www.lovelifeandlittleones.com.


Laura Doyle

Mum of four, Gentle parent living on coffee and trying always to stay positive and motivate in the midst of the madness.

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