Post-nasal drip is the dripping of mucus from the nasal and sinus passages down the back of the throat. This article discusses in detail this common health nuisance.
Post-nasal drip is defined as the dripping of mucus from the nasal and sinus passages down the back of the throat. It is a common health condition affecting males and females equally and is becoming increasingly prevalent in our society. The common causes of post-nasal drip may include allergies, asthma, viral infections (including the common cold), eating spicy foods, deviated nasal septum, irritants in the air (such as fumes or dust), pregnancy, medication, acid reflux, neurological inflammations, and sinus infections.
Post-nasal drip can also be caused due to sinusitis. It can be the only symptom of sinusitis, or it may have other symptoms, like nasal congestion, facial pain, and colored nasal discharge.
It commonly affects people in urban areas. It is invariably related to chronic rhinosinusitis and is common in people who are prone to allergy or with a family history of atopy or asthma. Frequent exposure to environmental pollutants and allergens causes repeated inflammation of the sinus and nasal mucus linings, leading to a thickening of the membranes and excess mucus production.
This excess mucus accumulates within the sinuses and drips down the throat, causing a feeling of post-nasal drip. Unfortunately, it also provides a suitable environment for bacterial growth and infection.
The common allergens associated with post nasal drip are:
The following is the list of condition that causes post-nasal drip:
Foreign body obstruction at the nasal pathways.
Oral contraceptives and antihypertensive medications.
The symptoms of post-nasal drip may include:
A feeling of something dripping at the back of the throat.
A dry cough.
Tickle in the throat.
Itchy, sore throat.
Blocked nose and sinuses.
A feeling of phlegm or mucus stuck in the throat.
Chronic throat clearing.
A lump in or on the throat or neck.
Sores inside the nose take time to heal.
Excessive headache or sinus pain.
Swelling of the throat or tongue.
Avoiding repeated exposure to allergens can significantly reduce the symptoms of chronic sinusitis and post-nasal drip. However, the following measures can help treat the condition.
Steam with menthol inhalation several times a day.
Use of a humidifier or vaporizer.
Drink a mixture of warm water with lime and honey to clear the mucus stuck in the throat.
Drink herbal tea.
Use saline nasal wash.
Gargle with lukewarm salt water.
Avoid cigarette smoking.
Take antihistamines for a short duration.
Use nasal decongestants for three to five days.
Intranasal steroid spray such as Budesonide or Fluticasone for short-term use.
Cough suppressants can be used.
Mast cell stabilizers are also prescribed to people with a family history of asthma or atopy.
For bacterial pharyngitis that leads to stagnation of mucus in the throat, antibiotics may be required.
Elevate your head to drain the mucus from the nasal passages.
Keeping yourself hydrated is one of the best solutions to avoid post-nasal drip symptoms (like a cough). Therefore, drink lots of clear water, about 8 to 9 glasses every day. Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine-containing drinks to prevent dehydration.
To avoid the accumulation of mucus in the nose, simply blow it out and clean it with clean tissue. If the blowing method does not work, try to sniff and spit it out quickly. This can prevent halitosis and dry mouth.
Moreover, it is important to treat chronic sinusitis to clear the excess mucus in the sinuses.
OTC (Over-the-Counter) Decongestant: The doctor may advise this drug to relieve cough caused by post-nasal drip. It helps reduce congestion in the nasal cavity by narrowing the blood vessels. Avoid using decongestants for more than three days. They are available in both spray and tablet form. Stop using the drug and consult with your physician if there is no relief.
If home remedies fail to work, you can take certain medications to cure the cough. The doctor may advise you of certain prescription drugs like antihistamines, corticosteroids, and anti-drip nasal sprays to relieve post-nasal drip symptoms like cough, sore throat, etc. Corticosteroids are used to treat post-nasal drip caused by non-allergic rhinitis. Anti-drip nasal sprays or anticholinergic drugs are usually prescribed for asthmatic patients and treat cough caused by post-nasal drip in asthma inhalers.
The complications of post-nasal drip include:
Prolonged post-nasal drip can lead to pharyngitis and even tracheobronchitis.
Difficulty breathing and swallowing.
It can interfere with work and day-to-day activities.
Development of chronic conditions.
It significantly affects sleep quality, as it frequently disturbs the patient's sleep.
Severe sinusitis and post-nasal drip can even lead to breathlessness or an inability to take a deep breath.
Post-nasal drip associated with chronic sinusitis can also cause a headache which can be mild to moderate in intensity.
Seek urgent medical attention if having the following symptoms:
Bumps on the face.
Persistent pain in the nose.
Persistent or slimy cough with a sore throat.
Lose or painful upper teeth.
Redness on the tongue or mouth.
A sensation of something stuck in the throat that will not go away.
Post-nasal drip is not a life-threatening condition, and it can usually resolve on its own. But when the symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, it is accompanied by a foul-smelling discharge, difficulty breathing, or fever. If this occurs, you should consult with a healthcare professional to rule out the cause.
Post-nasal drip is among the most frequently seen causes of chronic cough, hoarseness, sore throat, etc. Normally, a post-nasal drip lasts only for ten days. But, if the person has any underlying cause of post-nasal drip that is severe and untreated, then it can even last for months to years.
The following is the list of condition that causes post-nasal drip:
- Common cold.
- Allergic rhinitis.
- Sinus infection.
- Foreign body obstruction at the nasal pathways.
- Oral contraceptives and antihypertensive medications.
The following are the foods that have to be avoided when you are affected with post-nasal drip:
- Ice cream.
The following are the natural methods for relieving post-nasal drip:
- Use of a humidifier or vaporizer.
- Usage of a saline nasal mist to thin out the mucus.
- Avoiding cigarette smoke.
- Gargle with lukewarm salt water.
- Drink herbal tea.
Foods that have increased histamine levels can trigger your body to produce more mucus. Bananas are one among them, and that is the reason why bananas can aggravate post-nasal drip. Other fruits that also high histamine levels include strawberries, pineapple, and papaya.
The warmth provided by various herbal teas helps in soothing a sore throat and post-nasal drip. The best type of tea that helps in relieving post-nasal drip is the ginger and thyme tea. It has natural antibacterial and antiviral properties that can calm the irritated throat and significantly decrease the overproduction of mucus.
Elevating your head while sleeping can provide significant relief of post-nasal drip. The usage of two or more pillows and books under the bottom of your head can provide a good degree of elevation that is needed for the relief.
Yes, post-nasal drip can enter and drain into the trachea and the lungs. This primarily happens when the patient is sleeping or when the patient has a thicker viscous post-nasal drip. It might easily enter the respiratory pathways.
Yes, post-nasal drip can block your airway and might trigger symptoms such as coughing and gasping. People who have experienced these symptoms often explain it as a suffocation. However, this happens only in severe cases of post-nasal drip.
Yes, gargling with lukewarm water and rock salt can help clear out the mucus present in the throat. It can also provide a soothing feel during a sore throat. Salt has significant antiinflammatory properties that can speed up the relief of post-nasal drip.
Yes, sinusitis is a common cause of post-nasal drip. The fluid that gets clogged in the sinuses during an ongoing sinusitis episode can drain into the throat and lead to a post-nasal drip.
Normally, after a sinus infection, post-nasal drip lasts only for a period of 10 days or more. But if it gets worse, you should immediately consult your doctor because the underlying cause could be a bacterial infection, or any structural problem, especially in the septum of the person’s nose. It might include deviated septum or nasal polyps.
Any health conditions that trigger excess mucus production can cause phlegm in the throat. The most common causes are:
- Acid reflux.
Most people who get affected by post-nasal drip usually get cured on their own. However, the prognosis primarily depends on the cause of the post-nasal drip. So if the cause is severe, complications can arise if the post-nasal drip is left untreated.
The following methods can be used in the treatment of a post-nasal drip cough:
- Intake of medications like Guaifenesin, which belongs to the expectorant class. It helps in the expulsion of mucus.
- Usage of saline nasal sprays or irrigation can flush out mucus, bacteria, allergens from the sinuses.
- Use of a vaporizer or humidifier in order to increase the moisture in the air.
When there is too much mucus in the throat, it might make the person feel hoarseness in the throat and give him or her a sore, scratchy throat. By this mechanism, a post-nasal drip can cause a sore throat.
Over-the-counter nasal decongestants such as Pseudoephedrine can be used to reduce nasal congestion and eliminate post-nasal drip. The recent advancement of non-drowsy antihistamines are also very effective against post-nasal drip.
The following are the best treatment modes in curing post-nasal drip:
- Non-drowsy antihistamines such as Loratadine and Pseudoephedrine should be taken for several days to achieve maximum effect.
- Saline nasal sprays can help soften the affected individual’s nasal passages and relieve post-nasal drip symptoms.
These drugs should be taken only under a proper prescription from a physician.
Last reviewed at:
26 Mar 2022 - 4 min read
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