Persistent Morning Cough: Why Do I Cough In The Morning?

What Is Morning Cough or a Persistent Cough?

If you experience coughing and sneezing in the morning, excess mucus in the morning or just wake up thinking, “Why do I always have phlegm in the morning?” you might want to consider looking into the cause of your cough and excess mucus every morning. The causes of persistent cough and morning cough are generally the buildup of mucus in the lungs and the airway. This mucus can be the result of any number of different issues, from chronic post-nasal drip to COPD. Constriction in the airways or stiffness in the lungs can also cause a persistent cough, often resulting from asthma, interstitial lung disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases. Persistent cough can also be caused by lung irritants that may have been inhaled. Because people with chronic bronchitis experience consistent irritation in the airways, a persistent morning cough is often associated with this disease. Also, people who smoke commonly experience a morning cough or persistent cough as a result of the irritation caused by smoking. Finally, if there has been excess exposure to pollution in the air, a morning cough can sometimes result. 

It is good to remember that, in many cases, having a morning cough is a helpful way to clear mucus from your respiratory system so you can breathe easier. However, if you find that your persistent cough is causing you discomfort, or if you are having COPD coughing attacks, you may require treatment. Coughing in the morning is not a concern on its own, unless it does not get better or go away. But a cough in the morning combined with other symptoms could indicate a serious respiratory problem.

What causes morning cough?

If you experience coughing and sneezing in the morning, excess mucus in the morning or just wake up thinking, “Why do I always have phlegm in the morning?” you might want to consider looking into the cause of your cough and excess mucus every morning. The causes of persistent cough and morning cough are generally the buildup of mucus in the lungs and the airway. This mucus can be the result of any number of different issues, from chronic post-nasal drip to COPD. Constriction in the airways or stiffness in the lungs can also cause a persistent cough, often resulting from asthma, interstitial lung disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases. Persistent cough can also be caused by lung irritants that may have been inhaled. Because people with chronic bronchitis experience consistent irritation in the airways, a persistent morning cough is often associated with this disease. Also, people who smoke commonly experience a morning cough or persistent cough as a result of the irritation caused by smoking. Finally, if there has been excess exposure to pollution in the air, a morning cough can sometimes result.

Why Do I Cough in the Morning?

Many people wonder, “Why do I cough in the morning and should I be worried about it?” If you have found yourself thinking, “Why do I have phlegm every morning?” and want to find out which causes of persistent cough are affecting you, talk to your doctor. Your cough in the morning could be caused by a number of factors, including illness, exposure to irritants, disease and more. Your doctor will ask about your exposure to smoke, pollution and other lung irritants, and about other symptoms you may be experiencing, to learn more about why you have a morning cough.

What Causes a Buildup of Mucus in the Lungs?

If you wake up with a buildup of mucus in the morning, it could be due to several different causes. First, it is important to note that although waking up with mucus buildup and a morning cough can signal respiratory problems, they can also be the symptoms of less concerning issues. If you wake up coughing and sneezing in the morning rather than having a significant and persistent cough, for example, those symptoms signal different issues. Here are some of the causes of mucus buildup in the lungs.[1][2] 

  • Acid reflux
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis (both acute and chronic)
  • COPD
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Exposure to pollution or other lung irritants
  • Heart problems
  • Lung cancer or other lung disease
  • Respiratory infections (including common cold, flu and pneumonia)
  • Pertussis 
  • Postnasal drip
  • Smoking

As you can see, some causes of mucus buildup and morning cough are small issues that can be resolved, while others are serious and may require medical attention. So how do you know whether your morning cough is the sign of something serious or not? Pay close attention to how frequently you have been coughing in the morning and how that cough makes you feel, and then take a closer look at other accompanying symptoms.

Should I Worry About Mucus Buildup or Persistent Morning Cough?

If you have a buildup of mucus when you wake up in the morning along with coughing in the morning, or a persistent cough throughout the day, it is important to look out for any additional symptoms that could signal a problem. If you wake up coughing and sneezing in the morning, you are most likely dealing with allergies, a cold or airborne lung irritants. This kind of cough in the morning should get better with time, or with mitigation strategies to help with airborne lung irritants. However, if your cough does not seem to get better, you need to pay attention. Any ongoing cough that does not resolve on its own after several weeks warrants a visit to your doctor. If you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to the persistent cough or mucus buildup in your lungs, see your doctor right away.[1][2] 

  • Breathlessness 
  • Chest pain when you are not coughing
  • Coughing up yellow, green, brown, pink or blood-tinged mucus
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Night sweats
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing

Generally speaking, periodic coughing in the morning is not a concern in the absence of other symptoms. However, if your cough in the morning will not go away, seems to get worse or is accompanied by the symptoms above, you should seek medical attention.

Is having morning cough a symptom of COPD?

A morning cough and a persistent cough are very common for people living with COPD. In fact, COPD patients are often diagnosed after discovering that they have a persistent cough that will not go away. This cough may begin with coughing in the morning, but it often turns into a cough that persists throughout the day. If you have a persistent cough, meaning your cough lasts for at least three months for two years in a row, talk to your doctor about being tested for COPD. If you have already been diagnosed with COPD and are experiencing a morning cough that is persistent and producing mucus, talk to your doctor about the best way to treat it.

How to Treat Morning Cough

If you go to the doctor asking, “Why do I cough in the morning?”, your doctor will ask a variety of questions and do a thorough examination to decide when and how your morning cough should be treated. How much you are coughing in the morning, the type of cough you have, how much it affects your daily life and whether or not you are able to productively clear the mucus are all factors that could affect how and whether your cough is treated. For many people with COPD, coughing in the morning is a helpful, productive way to clear mucus from the lungs and airways. However, if your coughing is caused by something else, or if your coughing becomes painful, difficult to control, keeps you up at night or causes bronchospasms, you may require treatment.

If you have a cough in the morning, but are still having trouble clearing the mucus that is blocking your airways, your doctor may prescribe expectorants to help make the mucus easier to cough up. If your cough becomes painful or you are having trouble controlling your coughing, you may be prescribed a cough suppressant to help you rest and recover. If you are experiencing bronchospasms, also called COPD coughing attacks, which cause the muscles surrounding your airways to tighten and constrict your breathing, you may need treatment to relax your airways so you can breathe easier. In that case, a bronchodilator or inhaled steroid may be prescribed to ease your cough in the morning.

If you are in the later stages of COPD and are finding that your persistent cough is no longer a morning cough, but takes place throughout the day, you may find you are struggling to get the oxygen you need. In that case, oxygen therapy may help improve your oxygen intake and saturation.

Inogen Can Help

If you experience COPD coughing attacks and frequently find yourself coughing in the morning, you may need help getting the oxygen you need throughout the day. If so, oxygen therapy can be beneficial. To get the greatest benefits without impacting your freedom or mobility, talk to your doctor about whether a portable oxygen concentrator is right for you.

Portable oxygen concentrators, like those made by Inogen, make getting your oxygen treatments easy, whether you are at home or on the go. Because Inogen’s portable oxygen concentrators are so compact and lightweight, you can treat your persistent cough even while going about your daily activities. If you need oxygen therapy, talk to your healthcare provider and contact Inogen today to find out which of our products is right for you. A persistent cough does not need to get in the way of your life. Improve your independence, mobility and freedom today with Inogen portable oxygen concentrators.

Frequently Asked Questions: Persistent Morning Cough

How do I know if my morning cough is serious?

Generally speaking, a morning cough is not something to be concerned about on its own. A persistent morning cough could be caused by a number of different things, including postnasal drip, reflux, asthma, allergies or smoking. It is a good idea to see your doctor for any morning cough that becomes chronic, meaning it lasts longer than eight weeks, just to make sure there are no other medical concerns contributing to your cough. However, if your morning cough is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor right away.

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood or bloody mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Increase in mucus production
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Night sweats
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing

If you have more than one of the symptoms above, there is cause for heightened concern. Certain symptoms—like frequently coughing up blood or bloody mucus or coughing up more than a teaspoon of blood, high fever, serious chest pain and sudden onset of weakness or breathlessness—warrant immediate medical attention. When in doubt, it is better to be safe than sorry and get medical attention. If you are wondering, “Why do I cough in the morning”, see your doctor.

Should I see a physician for a morning cough?

If your morning cough is chronic and persistent, meaning it lasts more than eight weeks, it is a good idea to contact your doctor for a checkup. While the majority of morning coughs are nothing to panic about, they can be a sign that something is wrong in your respiratory system. If your morning cough is accompanied by other signs, like excess fatigue, fever, chest pain, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, weight loss or wheezing, you should see your doctor right away. While coughing in the morning is not necessarily a concern, a chronic cough in the morning should be checked out.

Does my morning cough mean I have COPD?

A morning cough on its own does not necessarily indicate COPD. Coughing in the morning can be a symptom of many different conditions, so it is important to pay attention to any other symptoms you may have. If your morning cough lasts more than a couple weeks, note any other symptoms you are experiencing, even if they seem mild. If your cough in the morning continues past eight weeks, see your doctor. If you have other concerning symptoms accompanying your morning cough, including shortness of breath, wheezing or significant fatigue or weakness, talk to your doctor right away as the morning cough could be an early indicator of COPD or another respiratory illness.

My morning cough is productive. What does that mean?

That depends on a few things. Generally, a productive cough in the morning is a good sign, but you also want to keep track of how long your morning cough persists. If it is an acute cough, meaning it lasts three weeks or less, your productive morning cough did exactly what it was supposed to do—it helped clear your lungs and airways of mucus or an irritant. If your morning cough lasts more than eight weeks, and if you find it disrupts your sleep or causes fatigue, you should see your doctor. You should also see your doctor if you are coughing up colorful or bloody mucus. Certain illnesses can cause a chronic cough in the morning or throughout the day, and some of them are not a concern; however, all chronic coughs should be checked out and the cause diagnosed by a doctor to ensure that you treat the cough properly.

What Is The Difference Between Morning Cough And Smoker’s Cough?

There might not be a difference if your morning cough is caused by smoking. Typically, you can distinguish between a cough caused by a cold or allergies and a smoker’s cough by looking at how long the cough lasts, as well as any other symptoms that accompany the cough. If you smoke and develop a cough with mucus every morning, pay attention to how long your cough in the morning lasts and whether it improves with time. For a smoker, a cough lasting more than several weeks, that does not improve, is likely caused by your smoking. It is a good idea to see your doctor to rule out serious concerns about coughing in the morning, but quitting smoking is also ideal.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Mucus Or Phlegm?

The mucus and phlegm your body produces can tell you about your overall health. The color and amount of mucus and phlegm produced when you cough in the morning, or anytime, can indicate infection or a medical concern. Generally speaking, white, yellow and green mucus can potentially indicate an infection, but neither are of concern unless they persist for more than 10 days without improving or are accompanied by other symptoms, like high fever, chills or shortness of breath.[3] Pink, red, brown, gray, black or frothy mucus are concerning, as they can indicate other health problems, from COPD to heart failure.[4] If you have pink, brown or gray mucus or sputum, let your doctor know. These could indicate COPD, infection or some bleeding in your respiratory system. Black, red or frothy mucus and phlegm can indicate serious bleeding or heart failure and require immediate medical attention.[4] If you are coughing in the morning and producing colorful phlegm, make an appointment to see your doctor just in case.

SOURCES

[1] “That Nagging Cough.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, Updated 7 Feb. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/that-nagging-cough. 

[2] Bhargava, Hansa D. “Mucus in Your Chest: See 8 Different Causes (And How to Remedy It).” WebMD, WebMD LLC, 30 Mar. 2020, www.webmd.com/lung/mucus-in-chest-overview#1. 

[3] Shmerling, Robert H. “Don’t Judge Your Mucus by Its Color.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard University, 23 June 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/dont-judge-your-mucus-by-its-color-201602089129. 

[4] Galan, Nicole. “Phlegm: Colors, Textures, and Home Care.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 22 Jan. 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318359#When-to-see-a-doctor. 

Sources not cited:

Miller, Brian Joseph. “What Is a Cough? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention: Everyday Health.” EverydayHealth.com, Everyday Health, Inc., Updated 4 May 2020, www.everydayhealth.com/cough/guide/. 

Yetman, Daniel. “What’s Causing My Morning Coughing Fits?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 2 Dec. 2020, www.healthline.com/health/morning-cough.

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