Postnasal drip is excess mucus that the nose and throat glands secrete. Home remedies, such as drinking fluids, or medications, such as decongestants, can help to relieve symptoms.
The nose, throat, and sinuses continually produce mucus. This is a thick, slippery substance that helps prevent the airways from drying. Mucus also helps protect the body from germs, pollen, and other environmental pollutants in the air.
Mucus mostly does its job unnoticed. It usually mixes with saliva harmlessly throughout the day, and a person either swallows it or blows it out of the nose. However, it becomes more apparent if the body produces too much or too thick mucus. 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.
Individuals with postnasal drip may feel they need to clear their throat frequently. In addition, 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. Home remedies may also help with symptoms. Options to treat postnasal drip include the following.
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. While they can dry the mucus, some individuals may find their nose feels too dry. Others may discover that these medications make them feel nervous or dizzy and may avoid them as a result.
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 nonsedating antihistamines, making them less likely to cause fatigue. Their properties make them especially helpful for people who are working or driving while managing postnasal drip.
Additional OTC nonsedating 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 drugs. 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:
- Flonase (Fluticasone propionate): For treating allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies).
- Ipratropium bromide: For relieving stuffy nose due to a cold, seasonal allergies, and runny nose.
- Azelastine: For treating a runny nose, sneezing, and seasonal allergies.
Read on to learn more about medications for postnasal drip.
A person can also try using home remedies to treat postnasal drip. These include the following:
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.
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.
Postnasal drip usually occurs due to certain changes causing mucus to become thick or excessive in volume.
One of the most common causes of postnasal drip is allergies. Seasonal allergies due to plants releasing their pollen may trigger postnasal drip, as the body produces extra mucus to try and eliminate the pollen spores.
Cold weather or dry air can also lead to 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 is a sign of the body working to stay healthy.
Other causes of postnasal drip may include:
- eating overly spicy food
- irritating chemicals from perfumes, cleaning products, or environmental fumes
- large adenoids or chronic adenoiditis, which affects certain glands in the throat
- medications, including birth control and blood pressure drugs
- 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, resulting in postnasal drip.
Postnasal drip is not in itself transmissible.
However, it may depend on the cause of the excess mucus production. For example, if a person develops a postnasal drip due to a viral infection, they could pass the virus to another individual. They may then develop a cold or another infection.
An increase in blood volume and hormone fluctuations during pregnancy likely contributes to excess 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 a doctor about postnasal drip 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 difficulty 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 requiring 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.