A postnasal drip is excess mucus that the glands of the nose and throat secrete. A person may feel as if mucus is dripping down or stuck in their throat, particularly at night. They may feel the need to clear their throat more than usual.

The nose, throat, and sinuses continually produce mucus, a thick, slippery substance that helps prevent the airways from drying. Mucus protects the body from germs, pollen, and other environmental pollutants in the air. These particles can create problems in the body if they are not filtered out as a person breathes. Mucus traps these foreign bodies and helps eliminate them.

Mucus usually does its job unnoticed. It harmlessly mixes with saliva throughout the day, and a person either swallows it or blows it out the nose. However, if the body produces too much or too thick mucus, it becomes much more apparent. When this occurs, a person may feel the substance dripping down the back of their throat. Doctors call this postnasal drip.

This excess mucus can also cause other symptoms, such as a cough, nausea, and bad breath. People may also experience a sore throat, throat clearing, and a raspy voice.

Many people can treat postnasal drip with home remedies, although sometimes, it is better to speak with a doctor for advice and treatment.

This article explores postnasal drip, its causes, symptoms, and treatment.

A person with postnasal drip leaning their head back.Share on Pinterest
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Individuals with postnasal drip may feel they need to clear their throat frequently. Also, mucus contains immune-system molecules, which can irritate the tissues and cause a sore throat, cough, and hoarseness. A person may notice postnasal drip more obviously at night, especially when lying down.

Other symptoms of postnasal drip include:

  • a sore or scratchy throat
  • feelings of nausea due to extra mucus in the stomach
  • frequently clearing the throat
  • excessive spitting up or swallowing mucus
  • bad breath
  • a cough that worsens at night

Additionally, individuals may develop complications of postnasal drip that lead to other symptoms. For example, the excess mucus can clog the Eustachian tubes, the canals that connect the throat to the middle ear, or the sinus passages. Painful infections may then develop.

People can buy over-the-counter (OTC) treatments to ease postnasal drip, and home remedies may help with symptoms. Options to treat postnasal drip include the below.

Drying out the mucus

Decongestant medications, such as phenylephrine (Sudafed PE Congestion) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), can help dry out mucus.

However, although these medications work for many people, they may not suit everyone. They can dry out the mucus, and some individuals may find that their nose feels too dry. Others may discover that these medications make them feel nervous or dizzy and may therefore avoid them.

Some people use antihistamines, especially when their postnasal drip is due to seasonal allergies, which doctors call allergic rhinitis. Newer drugs, such as loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec), are known as non-sedating antihistamines, making them less likely to cause fatigue. Their properties make them especially helpful for people who have to work or drive while managing postnasal drip.

Additional OTC non-sedating antihistamine options include fexofenadine (Allegra) and levocetirizine (Xyzal). However, individuals should note that some of these options may cause sedating effects.

Each of these medications comes with side effects and may interact with other medicines. With this in mind, a person should discuss new medications with a doctor or pharmacist before trying them.

Thinning the mucus

Another home remedy for postnasal drip involves thinning the mucus out. There are OTC medications for this, such as guaifenesin (Mucinex), but nonchemical options also exist.

Increasing the moisture in the air may help make postnasal drip thinner and allow it to move smoothly through the passageways. Using humidifiers or steam vaporizers may help relieve postnasal drip, especially in cases of clogged sinuses.

Using nasal sprays

Saline nasal sprays or irrigation pots use salt water to flush out the mucus buildup. These options may help clear blocked airways and reduce overall mucus content.

Medicated nose sprays can also help improve a person’s symptoms. Depending on the cause of their postnasal drip, a person can try:

A person can also try using home remedies to treat postnasal drip. These include the below.

Propping up the head

If mucus buildup increases at night, sleeping with the head elevated with pillows promotes drainage. Some people could also prop their pillows with a suitable wedge to help with this.

This may also reduce the amount of mucus a person feels in their throat.

Drinking fluids

The body loses water through postnasal drip. Drinking plenty of liquids can help thin mucus, keep it flowing smoothly, and prevent dehydration. Warm teas and broths may also ease other symptoms, such as a sore throat, while the steam may help clear sinuses.

Avoiding cigarette smoke

Smoke can irritate the nasal passages and cause a buildup of mucus. Smoke can also negatively impact the body’s ability to clear the airways.

Postnasal drip is usually due to certain changes in the environment or the body.

One of the most common causes of postnasal drip is allergies. Seasonal allergies due to plants releasing their pollen may cause trigger postnasal drip, as the body produces extra mucus to try and eliminate the pollen spores.

Cold weather or dry air can also cause postnasal drip. Breathing cold or dry air may irritate a person’s nose and throat, so their body will create mucus to humidify and warm the passages and ease this irritation.

Cold weather also has links to viral infections, such as the flu, sinus infections, and the common cold. These infections cause many symptoms, including postnasal drip.

Additionally, the body reacts to invading germs by creating more mucus to flush them out. It may be uncomfortable, but it is actually a sign of the body working to stay healthy.

Other causes of postnasal drip include:

  • eating overly spicy food
  • pregnancy
  • reflux
  • irritating chemicals from perfumes, cleaning products, or environmental fumes
  • smoke
  • large adenoids or chronic adenoiditis, which affects certain glands in the throat
  • medications, including birth control and blood pressure medications
  • chronic respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

A deviated septum occurs when the wall between the nostrils becomes crooked or damaged. The condition can make it difficult for the body to drain mucus correctly, causing postnasal drip.

Many cases of postnasal drip clear up on their own. However, depending on its cause, complications can arise without treatment.

It is best to treat postnasal drip early to avoid complications, so people should speak with a doctor for any symptoms lasting more than 10 days.

No, postnasal drip is not in itself contagious.

However, it may depend on the cause of the excess mucus production. For example, if a person develops a postnasal drip because of a viral infection, they could pass the virus to another individual. They may then develop a cold or another infection.

There is a link between pregnancy and postnasal drip — a 2017 review states that 65% of study respondents experienced nasal congestion symptoms. Doctors call this pregnancy rhinitis, but they do not know the exact cause.

The increase in blood volume and hormone fluctuations during pregnancy may contribute to the increased mucus production that the body expels through the nose. The excess mucus can block the sinuses and drain down the throat, causing postnasal drip and the associated symptoms.

Pregnant individuals can typically treat their symptoms at home with nasal saline solutions. However, they should contact a doctor before starting any new medications.

A person should consult with their doctor about postnasal drip under some circumstances, including if they have:

  • discolored mucus that does not clear up
  • foul-smelling mucus
  • symptoms that accompany a significant fever
  • symptoms lasting 10 days or more

An individual may have a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. Viral infections are another possibility, but a doctor does not treat these with antibiotics.

Additionally, healthcare professionals may order tests to check for other causes, such as stomach acid reflux or nasal polyps. They may also prescribe a steroid nasal spray for people who experience persistent allergies.

Many individuals can treat their postnasal drip with home remedies, OTC nasal steroid sprays, or both. However, if their symptoms persist and negatively affect their quality of life, they may wish to contact a doctor.

Postnasal drip is a common occurrence, but it is not typically serious. Although bothersome, it usually resolves on its own or with OTC medications and home remedies.

The best way to avoid postnasal drip is to eliminate allergens or other triggers where possible.

People who experience persistent postnasal drip or postnasal drip that accompanies other symptoms should speak with a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Postnasal drip refers to excess mucus that someone may feel in the back of the nose and throat, causing a constant need to clear the throat. It may lead to symptoms, such as a sore throat and trouble swallowing.

Environmental triggers, such as allergies, cold weather, or dry air, may cause postnasal drip.

While treatment options depend on the cause, postnasal drip often clears up without the need for medication. However, antihistamines and decongestants may help those with viral infections or allergies.

Anyone with persistent postnasal drip or additional symptoms should seek their doctor’s advice.

Read the article in Spanish.