Catarrh is the medical term for a buildup of mucus in the back of the nose, throat, or sinuses. Doctors sometimes refer to catarrh as postnasal drip.
Often, catarrh is the result of an intermittent or temporary illness, such as an allergy or cold. It typically goes away once the illness has passed.
However, some people may experience chronic catarrh that persists for months or even years. It is not usually a cause for concern, but it can be a nuisance to live with.
This article explains what catarrh is and outlines some of its symptoms and causes. It also provides information on diagnosing and treating chronic catarrh.
The term catarrh, or postnasal drip, describes a buildup of mucus in the back of the nose, throat, or sinuses.
Mucus is a slippery, fluid substance that the mucus glands in the nose and throat produce. It helps moisten the nasal passages while trapping any debris, viruses, or bacteria a person inhales. This helps prevent pathogens from getting into the body, where they could cause an infection.
The body makes 1–2 quarts of mucus every day. After production, the mucus drips down the back of the nose and into the throat.
Usually, people swallow the mucus without thinking about it. However, sometimes, the mucus can build up in the nose, throat, or sinuses.
Some common symptoms of catarrh include:
- a tickling feeling of mucus draining into the throat
- rasping or gurgling when talking
- feeling as though there is a lump in the throat
- having to clear the throat frequently
- having to swallow frequently
- difficulty swallowing
- a sore throat
- a blocked or stuffy nose
- a headache
- facial pain
- a loss of taste or smell
- difficulty sleeping
There are many potential causes of postnasal drip. They include:
- changes in weather conditions
- eating spicy foods
- hay fever, or allergic rhinitis
- nonallergic rhinitis
- viruses, such as the common cold
- sinus infection
- nasal polyps
- gastroesophageal reflux (GER)
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- hormone changes during pregnancy
- certain medications
In children, having something stuck in the nose is a common cause of catarrh.
A person should visit their doctor if they experience chronic catarrh that has persisted for several months or more, or if they find that catarrh is interfering with their everyday life.
People should also seek medical help if catarrh is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
These symptoms can signal an infection or condition that requires prompt medical treatment.
A person who experiences chronic catarrh may need to visit a doctor to establish the cause.
During the consultation, the doctor will ask the person about their symptoms. They will want to rule out the following potential causes:
- bacterial infections
- nasal polyps
- GER or GERD
The doctor may look inside the person’s nose or throat using a small hand-held torch.
Sometimes, however, an X-ray or endoscopy may be necessary for the doctor to take a closer look inside these structures. An endoscopy is a procedure that uses a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope to look inside the body.
Catarrh is a symptom with an underlying cause, and it is typically harmless. However, a person may seek treatment for the cause of persistent catarrh that is associated with pain, discomfort, or irritation.
The sections below will outline some potential treatment options for catarrh.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for catarrh include:
- nasal irrigation
- oral decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine)
- mucus-thinning medications, such as guaifenesin (Mucinex)
- antihistamines, to treat allergic causes of catarrh
- pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help ease headaches or facial pain
The following home treatments may help loosen catarrh so that it is easier to expel:
- drinking plenty of water
- using an indoor humidifier
- inhaling the steam during a hot shower
- gargling with warm salt water
- using a saltwater solution to clean the insides of the nostrils
- sleeping on propped up pillows
People should also avoid consuming foods and liquids that can irritate the mucous membranes, including:
- spicy foods
- caffeinated foods and beverages
When GER or GERD is the cause of catarrh, people should avoid eating within 2–3 hours of going to bed.
If a person has chronic catarrh, their doctor may recommend ipratropium (Atrovent) or beclomethasone (Beconase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort).
Atrovent is a nasal spray that reduces the amount of mucus the body makes. Beconase and Nasacort are steroid sprays that can help ease the symptoms of chronic catarrh.
The term catarrh refers to a buildup of mucus, usually in the back of the throat, nose, or sinuses.
There are many potential causes of catarrh. In most cases, this symptom will go away once a person has recovered from the illness that was causing it. However, catarrh can sometimes be chronic, meaning that it may persist for months or years.
Although catarrh is typically harmless, it can be a nuisance. Taking OTC medications and trying home treatments may offer some symptom relief. However, prescription-strength medications may be necessary for chronic catarrh that affects a person’s daily life.