It’s naturally produced by membranes in the nose and sinuses and its main functions are to keep your nose and airways moist and act as a protective barrier to trap bacteria, viruses, and allergens like dust or pollen to prevent them from spreading through your body and making you sick.
Your nose produces mucus constantly, on average one to two quarts daily. Under normal conditions, it mixes with saliva and is swallowed reflexively and unnoticed.
However, when excess mucus is created or it is thicker than usual, it becomes noticeable and potentially irritating as it runs down the back of the nose to the throat. This is known as post-nasal drip.
Although there is usually no infection, the tonsils (if present) and other tissues in the throat may swell. This can cause discomfort or a feeling that there is a lump in the throat.
Post-nasal drip can cause several side effects including hoarseness and coughing, which can be especially bothersome at night.
Additional symptoms include:
- Feeling of mucus drainage into the throat
- Frequent swallowing
- Throat clearing
- Raspy or gurgling speech
- Bad breath
Post-nasal drip is a common symptom of an array of potential underlying conditions.
It can be caused by rhinitis (acute, chronic, non-allergic), sinusitis, flu, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Frequently, it is caused by an allergy, which may be seasonal or persistent throughout the year.
The condition might not even be the result of too much mucus, but rather, the inability to clear it away effectively – the result of a swallowing disorder.
Other non-medical, environmental factors known to cause the production of excessive mucus include:
- Cold temperatures
- Certain foods / Dairy
- Hormonal changes (including pregnancy)
- Fumes from chemicals or perfumes
- Certain types of drugs (including birth control pills and high blood pressure medications).
If your post-nasal drip lasts 10 days or more, is accompanied by wheezing, fever and breathing problems, or if the mucus is green or yellow or has blood in it, it’s time to see the doctor. You could have a bacterial infection, a structural abnormality with your nose like a deviated septum, or nasal polyps.
A correct diagnosis requires a detailed exam, often with a nasal endoscopy, and possibly laboratory and x-ray studies.
Treatment for post-nasal drip is determined by the cause of the condition.
Relief for Acute Symptoms
- Over-the-counter medications – antihistamines, decongestants, and OTC saline nasal sprays – are often used successfully to manage symptoms.
- Medications containing the mucus-thinning agent guaifenesin (e.g., Mucinex®, Robitussin®) may prove helpful.
- Antibiotics for bacterial infection.
- For gastroesophageal reflux, elevate the head of the bed six to eight inches, avoid foods and beverages for two to three hours before bedtime, and eliminate alcohol and caffeine from the daily diet. Antacids such as Maalox®, Mylanta®, Gaviscon®, and drugs that block stomach acid production such as Zantac®, Tagamet®, or Pepcid®) may be prescribed.
Additional recommendations to ease symptoms:
- Stay hydrated.
- Rinse your sinuses – Use a Neti pot as directed to wash away irritants or allergens from the nasal passages.
- Get steamy – Steam inhalation can ease post-nasal drip by thinning mucus. The steam will also moisten the nose and throat, helping mucus pass through.
- Humidify- Using a humidifier adds moisture to the air, which can help reduce mucus. This can be especially soothing during the winter when indoor air is dry.
- Guard against allergens – remove dust from the home, wash sheet frequently, control pet dander.
- Raise the head of your bed – Sleep on propped up pillows, to keep the mucus from collecting at the back of your throat.
- Avoid fatty and fried foods – Symptoms of GERD, including post-nasal drip and sore throat, can be drastically reduced by avoiding reflux-aggravating foods.
Solutions for Chronic Conditions
In the underlying causes are chronic and / or anatomically structural and problematic, an interventional procedure for long-term relief may be recommended by your ENT doctor.
- Balloon Sinuplasty
- ClariFix® Cryotherapy for Chronic Rhinitis
- RhinAer® for Chronic Rhinitis
- Endoscopic Sinus Surgery
Talk to your ENT doctor about testing to identify triggering allergens and treatment options.