What is drooling?
By definition, drooling occurs when excess saliva flows out of your mouth involuntarily. Medically, drooling may be called ptyalism or sialorrhea. Drooling is normal during the first two years of life because babies still haven’t developed full control of the muscles around their mouths. It’s also common for people to drool during sleep. Sometimes, drooling is a symptom of medical or neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s disease.
What causes drooling?
Drooling can be caused by a number of factors. Anything that results in difficulty swallowing, issues with muscle control or too much saliva production can cause excessive drooling.
Certain foods and beverages can lead to excessive saliva production. This includes foods with high acid content like citrus fruit. High saliva production has also been linked to sugary foods.
Drooling is normal in newborns and babies up to two years old. Excess saliva production typically peaks around three to six months of age, and symptoms may worsen during teething.
Some neurological conditions may cause drooling, including:
- Cerebral palsy.
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
- Multiple sclerosis (MS).
- Down syndrome.
In some instances, infections can lead to drooling. This includes:
- Strep throat.
- Sinus infections.
- Peritonsillar abscess, a condition in which tonsillitis spreads to your neck and chest.
Other medical conditions
Other health conditions that can cause drooling include:
- GERD (chronic acid reflux).
- Swollen adenoids.
- Pesticide poisoning.
- Being bitten by certain insects or snakes.
- Pregnancy side effects, such as acid reflux or nausea.
- Using certain medications.
Why do I drool when I sleep?
Sometimes, your sleeping position is to blame. If you sleep on your back, gravity keeps saliva in your mouth. On the other hand, if you sleep on your side or stomach, you’re much more likely to drool.
If you’ve always been a stomach or side sleeper and have only recently begun drooling, it could be due to a medical condition, such as allergies, infections or acid reflux.
Care and Treatment
How is drooling treated?
Treatment for drooling isn’t always needed. But if drooling is severe, your healthcare provider will recommend treatment options on a case-by-case basis. These treatments may include:
- Medications. Sometimes certain medications — such as scopolamine, glycopyrrolate and atropine sulfate — can be given to reduce excess saliva.
- Botulinum toxin A (Botox®) injections. These may also be given to reduce the flow of saliva from your salivary glands.
- Motor therapy. Physical therapy can help strengthen and develop muscles around your mouth. In some instances, this can help reduce drooling.
- Oral appliance therapy. A custom oral device can help your lips close properly during swallowing in some cases.
- Surgery. If conservative measures such as therapy, medications and botulinum toxin injections don’t work, then your healthcare provider may recommend surgery. This involves altering or clipping your salivary glands to reduce drooling. In some cases, your salivary ducts are rerouted to the back of your mouth.
- Radiation therapy. Reserved as a last resort option, radiation therapy can reduce drooling in severe cases. In some studies, a single fraction of radiation treatment was enough to show marked improvement.
What can I do at home to treat drooling?
Young children who are drooling while teething may benefit from chewing on popsicles or other cold objects. People with chronic drooling can try limiting acidic or sugary foods, as these can increase saliva production.
What happens if chronic drooling is left untreated?
Severe or chronic drooling can lead to health problems. For example, excessive drooling can cause angular cheilitis — a skin condition characterized by painful, cracked sores at the corners of your mouth. In some cases, excess saliva can even be aspirated into your lungs, causing pneumonia. So, it’s important to see your healthcare provider at the first sign of problems.
When to Call the Doctor
When should drooling be treated by a healthcare provider?
Drooling is a normal aspect of development. But, if you notice excessive or sudden drooling, it could be a cause for concern. Keep in mind that several medical conditions are linked to drooling, so schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider if you notice any warning signs.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Drooling is a normal part of childhood development, and it doesn’t always require treatment. But, if excess saliva starts interfering with your social life or quality of life, then you deserve to explore treatment options. Your healthcare provider can determine the cause of your condition and recommend appropriate treatment.
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