What is postnasal drip?
Postnasal drip is when more mucus than normal gathers and drips down the back of your throat. You may feel like you have a tickle in the back of your throat. Postnasal drip can be a bothersome condition that can lead to a chronic cough.
The glands in your nose and throat are constantly making mucus. This is normal. These glands produce one to two quarts of mucus per day. Mucus has many important functions, such as:
- Moistens and cleans your nasal lining.
- Moistens the air you breathe.
- Traps and clears whatever you inhale.
- Helps fight infections.
You normally swallow mucus unconsciously. You don't notice it because it mixes with your saliva and drips harmlessly down the back of your throat. But when you feel like mucus is gathering in your throat or dripping from the back of your nose, it becomes more obvious.
Symptoms and Causes
What are the symptoms of postnasal drip?
Postnasal drip can cause an irritated sore throat. Your tonsils and other tissues in your throat may swell up, leading to discomfort. You may feel like there’s a lump in the back of your throat. Other symptoms of postnasal drip may include:
- A feeling of mucus draining into your throat.
- Frequent swallowing.
- Gurgling or hoarseness.
- Urge to clear your throat.
- Bad breath (halitosis).
- Cough that bothers you more at night.
- Nausea and vomiting from excess mucus draining to your stomach.
Postnasal drip can also cause painful ear infections if mucus clogs up your Eustachian tubes. Your Eustachian tubes are what connect your nose and throat to your middle ears.
What causes postnasal drip?
You can get postnasal drip for many different reasons. One of the most frequent causes of postnasal drip is allergies, which is often called allergic postnasal drip.
Another cause is a deviated septum. If you have a deviated septum, it means the wall of cartilage between your nostrils (septum) is crooked. The misplaced structure of your nose makes one of your nasal passages smaller than the other. This can prevent mucus from draining properly and can lead to postnasal drip. Other postnasal drip causes may include:
- Colds and flu.
- Bacterial infections.
- Sinus infections (sinusitis).
- Cold temperatures, changing weather and dryness in the air.
- Bright lights.
- Spicy foods.
- Certain medicines, such as birth control pills and high blood pressure (hypertension) medications.
- Chronic acid reflux (GERD).
Is postnasal drip contagious?
Postnasal drip itself isn’t contagious. But the cause of it may be contagious. For example, if you develop postnasal drip because of a viral infection such as a cold, you could pass the virus on to someone else.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is postnasal drip diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider may diagnose postnasal drip by performing a physical exam of your ears, nose and throat. They may use a special camera called an endoscope to look inside of your nose and throat. This procedure is called a nasal endoscopy. They may also order X-rays.
Management and Treatment
How is postnasal drip treated?
Postnasal drip can be hard to cure. Treatment depends on the cause of the condition. For common colds and flu, you can try drinking warm liquids like soup or tea to help thin out the excess mucus. Along with drinking plenty of water, these home remedies will also keep you hydrated. Other treatment options may include:
To fix postnasal drip due to allergies, you should avoid things you’re allergic to. Symptom relief may include medicines like:
- Antihistamines, such as loratadine-pseudoephedrine (Claritin®).
- Cromolyn and steroid nasal sprays.
- Oral steroids.
In addition, immunotherapy with allergy shots or drops under your tongue may be a good remedy for the condition.
If you have a deviated septum, you may need a surgery called a septoplasty to permanently treat postnasal drip. Septoplasty straightens your septum and provides better airflow.
To get rid of postnasal drip due to a bacterial infection, your healthcare provider may recommend certain medications, including:
- Nasal sprays.
- Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®).
- Nasal saline irrigations, such as neti pots.
If postnasal drip is due to chronic sinusitis, your healthcare provider may recommend sinus surgery. Sinus surgery can open your blocked sinuses.
Chronic acid reflux
Treatment for postnasal drip caused by GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) may include:
- Avoiding foods and drinks for at least three hours before bedtime.
- Keeping your head elevated six inches to eight inches above your body at bedtime.
- Losing any excess weight.
- Cutting out caffeine and alcohol.
- Taking antacids such as TUMS® or acid blockers such as Pepcid AC®.
How can I prevent postnasal drip?
One way to prevent postnasal drip is by reducing your exposure to things you’re allergic to as much as possible. Ways to prevent the condition may include:
- Taking a daily allergy pill.
- Keeping your house dust-free and clean.
- Using pillow covers and mattress covers to prevent dust mites.
- Changing the air filters on your HVAC system frequently.
- Showering before you go to bed if you’ve spent time outdoors.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have postnasal drip?
Postnasal drip is very common and has many different causes. While the condition isn’t usually serious, it can be annoying. With some over-the-counter medications and other home remedies, it should clear up on its own.
If you have repeated cases of postnasal drip or other symptoms along with it, reach out to your healthcare provider. You may have a bacterial infection or other condition that requires medical care.
How do I take care of myself if I have postnasal drip?
There are many things you can do at home to help clear up your postnasal drip. You may need more fluids to thin out your secretions. Home remedies may include:
- Drink more water.
- Cut out caffeine.
- Avoid diuretics, if possible.
You can also try a mucus-thinning medication (expectorant) such as guaifenesin (Mucinex®). These may make your secretions thinner. Saline nasal irrigations lessen thickened secretions. Saline nasal sprays can help moisten your nose.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
If you’ve taken steps to clear up your postnasal drip and they’re not working, call your healthcare provider. You may have a bacterial infection that needs an antibiotic. Symptoms of a bacterial infection may include:
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
- What’s causing my postnasal drip?
- What changes in my symptoms should I look out for?
- What serious complications could develop?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Postnasal drip can be annoying, but it’s typically harmless. Most of the time, you can treat the condition with simple home remedies and over-the-counter medications. If you develop additional symptoms or your postnasal drip doesn’t clear up within a couple of weeks, call your healthcare provider. They can help determine if you have something that requires additional medication or other treatment.
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