Postnasal drip may occur due to a variety of conditions. Several medications can treat the underlying cause, and the recommended drugs work differently to stop the drip.

This article covers the best medications for postnasal drip, including types, dosages, precautions, and possible side effects. It also looks at home remedies, preventions, and when to contact a doctor.

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Usually, a person either swallows the mucus their body produces or blows it out of their nose. However, if someone produces excess mucus, they may feel it dripping down the back of the throat. Doctors call this postnasal drip.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, postnasal drip can develop due to:

Medications for postnatal drip

Different classifications of medications perform different functions that may help with postnatal drip, such as:

  • helping dry up mucus
  • decreasing mucus production
  • treating the underlying cause of postnasal drip

These medications also come in different forms, including:

  • pills
  • nasal sprays
  • liquids
  • syrups

According to research from 2019, topical medications, such as a nasal spray, allow people to apply a higher concentration of medication directly to the receptor site. This reduces the risk of systemic or body-wide side effects compared with oral medications.

We discuss the best medications for postnasal drip in more detail below.

Antihistamines act on the histamine receptors, which often cause typical allergy symptoms, such as excess mucus production and postnasal drip. A range of antihistamines is available.

Prescription first-generation oral antihistamines include:

  • diphenhydramine (Benadryl), also available over the counter (OTC)
  • chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), also available OTC
  • carbinoxamine (Clistin)

Second and third-generation antihistamines include:

  • desloratadine (Clarinex)
  • loratadine (Claritin), available OTC
  • fexofenadine (Allegra), available OTC
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine), available OTC

Dosage

The exact dose depends on the form of the medication.

The typical adult dose of Benadryl is 25–50 milligrams (mg) three or four times daily as needed.

Claritin comes as a 10 mg tablet and a liquid (1 mg per milliliter). The usual adult dose is 10 mg once a day.

A person should check the packaging for each medication and confirm with a doctor whether they are suitable for children.

Precautions

Older or first-generation versions of antihistamines often cause side effects, such as sedation. However, second-generation antihistamines are nonsedating.

Research from 2019 found that second-generation antihistamines are safer and work more effectively than first-generation antihistamines.

People should inform their doctor if they are taking other medications to check whether these will interact with antihistamines.

Possible side effects

Although second-generation antihistamines are safer than older medications, side effects may still occur.

Possible side effects of antihistamines include:

People experiencing these side effects should seek medical advice for their symptoms.

Decongestants decrease swelling in the nose, which may ease symptoms associated with postnasal drip, such as a runny nose.

Examples of decongestants include:

  • Mucinex
  • Sudafed
  • Suphedrin PE

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has placed restrictions on pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in many decongestants, because people can convert it to methamphetamine. For this reason, pharmacies may keep products containing this ingredient behind the counter.

Dosage

If pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in a decongestant, the standard dosage for adults is one 60 mg tablet up to four times daily.

The FDA does not recommend parents or caregivers give decongestants to children under 2 years old. It also states that people should be cautious when giving them to children over 2 years old.

People can speak with a pediatrician to determine the most suitable treatment for a child with postnasal drip issues.

Precautions

Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine stimulate certain receptors in the central nervous system that increase blood pressure.

People with heart conditions, including high blood pressure, should not use decongestants unless directed to do so by a medical professional.

Possible side effects

Common side effects from decongestants include:

A person should discuss any of the above side effects or other concerns with a doctor.

Steroids decrease inflammation in the nasal passages that may contribute to postnasal drip.

Doctors do not commonly prescribe oral steroids for treating postnasal drip due to potential side effects. However, OTC nasal sprays may help and cause fewer side effects.

The following steroid nasal sprays have FDA approval for OTC use:

Dosage

A person must use fluticasone nasal spray regularly for it to work. People can use it once or twice a day, and the usual adult dose is 1 or 2 sprays into each nostril. Each spray equates to 100 micrograms (mcg).

Adolescents and children over 4 years old can use 1 spray per nostril once daily.

Precautions

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, steroids can increase the risk of growth restriction in children. However, it states that topical steroids, such as nasal sprays, carry less risk than oral steroids.

It is best to discuss the risks versus the benefits of using steroids with a medical professional.

Possible side effects

Possible side effects of steroid sprays include:

  • issues inside the nose, such as:
  • a dry and irritated throat
  • an unpleasant taste in the mouth

Home remedies or alternative treatments may reduce postnasal drip. Possible options to try include:

Using a saline nasal spray

A saline spray is gentle and easy to use. Spraying the saline directly into the nose keeps the sinuses moist and may thin mucus that drips down the throat.

Learn how to make a saline solution at home.

Nasal irrigation

Nasal irrigation involves rinsing the nasal cavity using a device such as a neti pot or a high volume device. Rinsing the nose helps clear nasal secretions and may decrease postnasal drip.

Research from 2020 found that high volume devices were more effective than other types of nasal irrigation in clearing mucus.

Gargling with a saltwater rinse

Gargling with salt water is a common home remedy for cold symptoms, such as a cough or postnasal drip. It is virtually free of side effects and easy to do.

A person can dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water and gargle for 1 minute.

Read more about gargling with salt water.

The best way to prevent postnasal drip is by treating the underlying medical condition. The following strategies may also help prevent postnasal drip:

  • drinking more fluids to thin the mucus and help it flow easier
  • sleeping with the head of the bed elevated, reducing dripping to the back of the throat
  • using a humidifier in the home to increase moisture in the air, which may decrease mucus
  • limiting the consumption of spicy food to try to reduce GERD symptoms

Although postnasal drip is not often dangerous, it can be a symptom of another condition. A person should contact a doctor if:

  • symptoms last more than 10 days
  • they develop a high fever
  • foul-smelling mucus occurs, as this could indicate an infection
  • discolored mucus does not clear up

The best medications for postnasal drip may depend on the underlying cause.

Examples of medications for postnasal drip include antihistamines, steroids, and decongestants. As with any medication, it is best to talk with a doctor before use to discuss the dosage, precautions, and possible side effects.

A person may be able to treat postnasal drip at home with saline solutions or by gargling salt water. They may also wish to explore prevention measures such as purchasing a humidifier or making dietary changes.