What Is Postnasal Drip?
Every day, glands in the linings of your nose, throat, airways, stomach, and intestinal tract produce mucus. Your nose alone makes about a quart of it each day. Mucus is a thick, wet substance that moistens these areas and helps trap and destroy foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses before they cause infection.
When your body produces more mucus than usual or it’s thicker than normal, it becomes more noticeable.
The excess can come out of the nostrils — that’s a runny nose. When the mucus runs down the back of your nose to your throat, it’s called postnasal drip.
The excess mucus that triggers it has many possible causes, including:
Sometimes the problem is not that you’re producing too much mucus, but that it’s not being cleared away. Swallowing problems can cause a buildup of liquids in the throat, which can feel like postnasal drip. These problems can sometimes occur with age, a blockage, or conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.
Postnasal drip makes you feel like you constantly want to clear your throat.
Too much mucus may also make you feel hoarse and give you a sore, scratchy throat.
You could also get a sinus infection if those passages are clogged.
and decongestants can often help with postnasal drip caused by sinusitis and viral infections. They can also be effective, along with steroid nasal sprays, for postnasal drip caused by allergies.
The older, over-the-counter antihistamines, including diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), might not be the best choices for postnasal drip. When they dry out mucus, they can actually thicken it.
Newer antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin, Alavert), fexofenadine (Allegra), cetirizine (Zyrtec), levocetirizine (Xyzal), and desloratadine (Clarinex), may be better options and are less likely to cause drowsiness. It’s a good idea to check with your doctor before taking these because all of them can have side effects that range from dizziness to dry mouth.
Another option is to thin your mucus. Thick mucus is stickier and more likely to bother you. Keeping it thin helps prevent blockages in the ears and sinuses. A simple way to thin it out is to drink more water.
Other methods you can try include:
For centuries, people have treated postnasal drip with all kinds of home remedies. Probably the best known and most loved is hot chicken soup.
While it won’t cure you, hot soup, or any hot liquid might give you some temporary relief and comfort. It works because the steam from the hot liquid opens up your stuffy nose and throat. It also thins out mucus. And because it’s a fluid, the hot soup will help prevent dehydration, which will make you feel better too.
A hot, steamy shower might help for the same reason.
You can also try propping up your pillows at night so that the mucus doesn’t pool or collect in the back of your throat. If you have allergies, here are some other ways to reduce your triggers:
Call your doctor if the drainage is bad smelling, you have a fever, you’re wheezing, or your symptoms are severe or last for 10 days or more. You might have a bacterial infection.
Let your doctor know right away if you notice blood in your postnasal drip. If medication doesn’t relieve your symptoms, you might need to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (also called an otolaryngologist) for evaluation. Your doctor might want you to get a CT scan, X-rays, or other tests.
American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery: “Post-Nasal Drip.”
Chao, T. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 2008.
St. John Providence Health System: “Postnasal Drip.”
Mason R. Murray & Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, 4th ed., 2005.
Chung, K. The Lancet, April 2008.
Pratter, M. Chest, January 2006.
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What Is Postnasal Drip?
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