Adult Coughing

Archived Q&A and Reviews

I cough all winter!

Jan 2013

For the past few winters, I have had the same problem: I cough ALL WINTER LONG. I start out with a cold (sinus) in Sept/Oct and the coughing starts. I don't have congestion in my chest (I've seen a doctor), it just seems to come from the irritation in my throat from non-stop post-nasal drip. Once my cold gets better and I don't really feel ''sick'' anymore, I still have the mucus in the back of my throat every day and that leads to the coughing (and annoying throat-clearing..ahem). It's very difficult for me to exercise as that really starts the coughing up quite a bit. Unfortunately, it's worse at night and keeps everyone in the house awake. I sleep every night propped up on pillows, as that seems to lessen the ''drip'', but that leads to neck and back pain. Sometimes the coughing fits get out of control and it causes me to vomit. Two or three winters ago, I started taking Zyrtec and that seemed to clear up the problem (I do have mild year-round allergies that I previously did not medicate, but it seemed worth it to stop the coughing). Now, it is no longer helping enough. I have prescription codeine cough syrup, and that helps, but I just can't stand the idea of taking codeine every night for months at a time (not healthy and it gives me a headache). I have tried sinus-rinsing and drink lots of warm liquids and that helps temporarily, but the mucus comes back an hour or so later. Cough-drops do help a bit, but I feel like I'm rotting my teeth having them sit in my mouth all night every night. Any suggestions on how I can just curb the excessive flow of mucus?! Elizabeth

I'm sorry your doctor hasn't been more helpful. Two soothing strategies: 1 - a good humidifier on all night makes a big difference. 2 - instead of cough drops, suck or chew on whole cloves. Clove oil has the same numbing effect as menthol. It can really help with coughing at night. hope it helps

It's time to go back to a doctor and, if s/he doesn't suggest it, ask for a referral to an allergist. I am not a doctor, but to me this sounds like it could be allergies. (All 4 of us have them in my family.) Some things I have learned over the years about allergies:

(1) If nasal secretions are the only symptom (in your case leading to coughing) without fever, aching, difficulty breathing, etc., allergies are a likely candidate. Another thing that makes me think so is your history with Zyrtec. Zyrtec is a diagnostic medicine, meaning that if it helps, you have allergies. It is not like Benadryl or Sudafed where they will reduce the symptoms no matter what the underlying cause.

(2) Allergies change over the years - they are not a static characteristic of a person. I never had them as a child (in the desert southwest) but developed them after several years of living in a humid southern city as an adult. My son had severe allergies as a toddler that are becoming more manageable with time. So if you have had mild allergies in the past, it seems a viable hypothesis that you have worse allergies now, and/or a new allergy to a new substance. Time for a re-testing.

(3) There are lots of treatment options out there, not all of them OTC. For example, you may be a candidate for a daily nasal spray that works to prevent reactions to the allergens. I take one and it is a lifesaver - I now take Zyrtec only occasionally as a supplement. So just because Zyrtec isn't enough for you any more doesn't mean you should give up on the path of allergy meds. And of course, if allergies do turn out to be the culprit, your doctor will also be able to suggest additional non-drug strategies for reducing your exposure to allergens.

Good luck and feel better! Allergic mom

I had similar problems and would advise two things - one, buy a humidifier and use it when you sleep. I have the Crane Teardrop one and it works great. The second is to look into getting flonase. I had post-nasal drip like yours that was causing throat irritations that led me to lose my voice at the slightest hint of a cold. My doctor put me on flonase and I've been much better since. Good luck! No longer coughing constantly

I suffer the winter coughing season as well. Same story. Get a cold, cough until Spring. Sometimes the coughing spells made me alarmingly light-headed. At one point, it was so bad at one point I was sipping cough syrup during my commute to make sure I didn't suddenly pass out and cause an accident. Codeine syrup helped at night, but I didn't want to risk becoming dependent on it for relief.

The latest doctors visits concluded that asthma medication would help (inhalers), but frankly using them alone didn't make any difference. The cold weather and winter allergies apparently keep my bronchial tubes from being able to recover. Irritated airways causes coughing, which further irritates my airways, which causes cou.. sigh. The solution seems to be a balancing act.. taking enough medicine to reduce the mucus and clear my wheezing so that the coughing doesn't further aggravate my poor airways. Too dry means painfully squeaky coughing and dizziness. Too wet means clearing your throat and nasty sounding congested coughing. And lots of Kleenex. I'm a living science experiment.

So Zyrtec + inhalers + continually sipping hot water (adding honey helps) + cough drops are my current home remedy. That, and keeping my chest warm and bundled. The combined regimen seems be gradually helping my oxygen intake. At least I can sleep now without keeping the entire household awake. Best of luck. Quite an ab workout

Hi Elizabeth, It sounds like allergies to me. Since it's only winter, I wonder if you have some kind of mold in your heating system. Does it get better if you go away and sleep somewhere else? You might have a dust mite allergy and since the house is more closed up in the winter it affects you more. You could have your heating system cleaned and see if that makes a difference. Also you could put dust mite covers on your mattress and pillows.

You said that you drink lots of warm liquids and it provides temporary help. My advice is to just keep it up all day from morning to night. Drink until you're going to the bathroom frequently. It helped me with exactly your symptoms, and I used to get bronchitis every winter, no longer do. -Good luck!

For the nighttime coughing, try slowly sucking a spoonful of honey before bed. Honey helps coughing. For the persistent cough that will not go away, a few winters ago my doc prescribed an inhaler for me that helped open my lungs just a little and, wow, what a difference. So another winter I asked for the same -- so now I've been given booth a fast-acting, and slow-acting ''asthma'' inhaler which after just a few uses, got me over the cough. You might ask your doc about that path. no longer coughing

I have lots of respiratory allergies and was diagnosed in my thirties as having asthma as well. I used to have some of the same problems as you--and definitely the moment I lay down, I'd start to cough. I seem to recall this was a year-round problem. I used to keep keep Chloraseptic spray by my bedside and use that when the coughing started. It helped but was not a real solution.

However, these problems all stopped when I got on Flonase for my respiratory allergies (my nose was so chronically swollen inside that I had long since stopped being able to breathe through it) and Pulmicort for my asthma. Both of these are essentially topical steroids--one for the nose, one for the lungs. Now my colds are much milder, I never get bronchitis afterwards, I don't cough when I lie down, I can fully breathe, and I don't have asthma attacks. Really life-changing results. I don't even need to buy tissues anymore; my chronic year-round runny nose is over.

I suggest you see an allergist if your regular MD can't figure this stuff out. At a minimum, maybe you need a different allergy medicine. Or maybe during the winter you need to be on a nasal steroid. Good luck, and keep researching till you get a solution! breathing great for years now

Hi, If Zyrtec used to work, try switching to another allergy pill. Claritin or Allegra. It's normal to have to switch brands every year or two, they tend to wear off.

Get allergy covers for your pillows & start washing your bedding in hot water to reduce dust mites.

HEPA air filter for your bedroom Check your heater's air filter (you can switch it to a HEPA one too). It could be that you're using the heater more & it's pushing allergens.

All those things reduced my congestion a ton! Changed my life. Ex-morning sneezer

One word for you... Flonase. If you are doing nasal irrigation on a regular basis and that still isn't working than get an Rx for Flonase. I use it regularly all winter, though not necessairily every day. I even use it once a week on my son before he swims because he gets post nasal drip when exercising. Works like a charm. sympathetic

This sounds very much like asthma. You don't mention being diagnosed with it or taking any meds for it. It also sounds like it has the potential for mold allergies (which can lead to asthma symptoms). Winter is our big mold season, and you say that allergy medication helped, at least initially. Do you have symptoms only in your home, or everywhere at all times? Do you have symptoms when you travel to other states in the winter?

I would try asthma meds combined with allergy meds, but I would also do mold mitigation in your home - bathroom fan, dehumidifier, make sure the crawlspace is draining, clean mold off windows. Good luck! Allison

The fact that your cough was helped by Zyrtec says to me that it is caused by allergies. You say that it is not enough anymore, which just means that 1) your reaction has increased over time and need a stronger anti-histamine to suppress the response and (2) you need to see an allergist to find out what is triggering your cough so you can avoid that allergen and/or get stronger medication. The reason that none of the cough medicines are helping the is that they are just treating the symptoms, not the problem.

By the way, while most of us think of allergies as something that mainly occurs in Spring and Summer, you may be reacting to something else that is worse during the winter because we are indoors more -- dust mites (spending more time indoors), canned air/central heating, mold; plus reactions to dy leaves/particles in the air, or other plants that are active this time of year. Or even something else.

At any rate, you mention going to a doctor, but you need them to refer you to an allergy specialist who can get to the root of your problem. Good luck - I hope you find relief! Allergy sufferer

This tends to happen to me, too (only since I had kids). Sometimes I cough so hard I pee my pants. The best anti-cough drug I've found is Tessalon Perles (generic name Benzonatate). It just seems to stop the itchy-throat/coughing cycle, without any noticeable side effects, and it lasts eight hours!

I also use cough drops (though I worry that some night I'll inhale one and choke on it--I try to keep them in my cheek to make that less likely). I like the Ricola sugarfree (which avoids the tooth decay you were worried about).

I hope you can stop coughing! Coughy

I totally hear you. I am quite miserable for most of the winter months with the same issues, and it's the lack of sleep from the coughing that really gets me. Instead of cough drops (I agree, feels like I'm rotting my teeth out) try chewing sugarless gum. I find that just having something in my mouth that makes saliva makes my throat calm down. I actually keep a piece of gum in my mouth ALL NIGHT LONG without swallowing it, choking on it, or getting it stuck in my hair. Now that I write that, I'm nervous that one of those things will happen to you if you try this...but anyway, it works for me! Consolation prize: with all of the coughing, I swear I have 6-pack abs. Good luck. Hacker

I'm with you, and here's what I've learned. Supposedly, it could be allergies. I have noticed it helps to have really good dust-mite covers on my pillows, but it's not the save-all. (I also have dust covers on my bed as well, fwiw). I have also tried a bed wedge, as I've also been told that the problem of post-nasal drip is that you need to elevate-as you've done with your pillows. The bed wedge is not particularly comfortable, I've found, and may or may not help. I just have extra pillows. I may not have the same intensity of coughing as you--I have Rx cough syrup w/ codeine but I don't take it much. And I strongly recommend AGAINST sucking regular cough drops all night. I did do that, and two root-canals and other problems later, I wouldn't do it again. There are, however, sugar-free cough drops-only in mint flavor, for some reason--and I've found that I can sometimes suck on one for even a short time just to get to sleep. Like you, it's just throat irritation and drip, which can wake me out of a dead sleep into a coughing fit. Other things I try, w/ varying degrees of success: benedryl before I sleep, flexeril (muscle relaxant-it's really for back spasms, but also seems to work for putting me to sleep and relaxing enough to not cough all night. But I wouldn't do that in combo w/ codeine cough syryp. Warm salt water gargles before bed, just to soothe the throat. And sometimes a run of prilosec, as GERD can also cause coughing problems. I actually also did the tube-down-the-throat probe with the GI doc (which can be done at the same time as your colonoscopy, to make it efficient and cheaper)--you do this once in a lifetime to make sure you don't have precancerous conditions in your esophagus. I had pretty bad inflamation, though not precancerous, and went on a course of nexium, which helped a LOT for a few months. For a while I used a nasal steroid (flonase or veramyst), which seemed to help for a while, but then... not so much. So I stopped it. I've also had varying success with albuterol. Bottom line, I think, is that the docs don't have a good handle on it, and they'll blame it on whatever their first best guess is. Best of luck to you. janet

Eucalyptus oil has worked well for my children and I. I mix a few drops with olive oil and rub it on the back, chest and throat.

To stop the coughing fits, breathe through your nose when you cough! You will look a little weird but it always worked for me. For years I also had coughing fits all winter long. Nose breathing seems to stop the spasms since the breathing is slower and more controlled. Now when my loved ones start coughing I say ''nose breathe, nose breathe!'' and it tends to work for them too! For the mucus drip you might also consider acupuncture. Chinese medicine has many remedies dealing with mucus. Amy

I can totally relate. Post nasal drip irritates the back of your throat and your body reacts with terrible coughing fits. I would get flush and sweaty and could not stop coughing. Night time was a nightmare. the answer: i finally went to yet another ENT and brought up the possibly of having my TONSILS out. I have had sore throats and tonsil infections all my life but never so many in one year as to red flag having them out. But I realized that the post nasal drip was only a part of the problem. The other part was how my throat was reacting to the post nasal drip. 4 yrs ago had my tonsils out ( i was 34). Have never had one of those crazy coughing fits since. Have coughed here and there but never a fit. Never kept me up at night. Still get post nasal drip but it is TOTALLY different. Best decision for me. Tonsils OUT

Simmer 6 whole cloves, a cinnamon stick and some fresh sliced ginger in 2 cups of water for 20 min. Sweeten to taste with honey and sip before bedtime. Also prop your pillows up so you're sleeping sitting up a little, and run a cool-mist humidifier in the bedroom all night long. Good luck! 'tis the season...

Try cleaning up the air you breathe. Fragrances can be irritating to the airways. Get rid of perfume, air fresheners, scented personal care products, scented detergents, smelly cleaning products like bleach, ammonia, pine sol, etc. Open the windows for at least a part of each day. Hope this helps. Anon

Ugh. It's an annoying problem isn't it. Flonase up the nose is the answer. A shot in the morning and evening. Takes a little while to kick in. I do get this less now that I am not in the Bay Area. (knock on wood) But perhaps you're not ready to move. stop the dripping