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November 26, 2018 • Family Medicine
Have you been experiencing upper respiratory symptoms such as sore throat, persistent cough, clogging in the tubes of the ear or sinus infections? If so, postnasal drip may be the cause.
Postnasal drip is not the same thing as a runny nose, but they share the same root cause: production of excess or abnormally thick mucus from glands within the lining of your nasal passages.
Mucus is a thick, sticky liquid produced by your nose to protect the body from infection. It traps viruses and bacteria and keeps your nasal passages moist. When your body is functioning normally, mucus mixes with saliva and is harmlessly swallowed. However, under certain circumstances, your body may produce more mucus than normal. When this happens, the excess mucus needs someplace to go. Postnasal drip occurs when the excess mucus exits from the back of your nose into the throat. A runny nose is excess mucus exiting from the nostrils.
Excess mucus in your nose can clog your sinus passages, which may lead to a sinus infection. Postnasal drip can also cause ear or throat discomfort. Your nose is connected to your ears and throat via an open structure called the pharynx, a cone-shaped passageway in the back of the head. Therefore, excess mucus that exits from the back of your nose can flow into your ears and throat from the pharynx. Excess fluid in your ear can cause an ear infection by clogging up the Eustachian tube. An unusual influx of mucus can also irritate your throat, causing soreness or coughing.
Postnasal drip may be temporary or chronic, depending on its cause. Potential causes of temporary postnasal drip include the following:
In these cases, postnasal drip typically subsides after the condition runs its course or the irritating stimulant is removed.
Chronic postnasal drip is excess mucus production that persists for a long period of time and may be caused by the following:
You can take steps to relieve the symptoms of postnasal drip. Exposure to steam, by taking a shower or drinking hot soup, for example, can help to thin the mucus and open the nasal passages. You can also prevent mucus from collecting in your throat while you sleep by lying on propped-up pillows. If your postnasal drip is caused by allergens or other irritants, nasal irrigation (e.g., using a neti pot) can help clear these foreign bodies away.
Postnasal drip can also be treated with medication, but the specific drug you should use depends on what is causing your symptoms. Steroid sprays or certain antihistamines, for example, are common treatments for postnasal drip caused by allergies. If your postnasal drip is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor will likely treat it with antibiotics. Decongestants (such as pseudoephedrine) and expectorants (a medication to thin the mucus, such as guaifenesin) may also be effective.
If you have persistent upper respiratory symptoms, schedule an appointment with your primary care provider. He or she can help determine the cause and formulate an appropriate treatment plan.
“Treatments for Post-Nasal Drip.” Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Harvard Health.
“What Is Postnasal Drip?” WebMD.
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.