Understanding and Managing Post Nasal Drip


woman in a bright yellow blouse looks uncomfortable and holds her throat while working on a laptop.

The persistent tickle in your throat can be extremely bothersome. No amount of coughing or throat clearing seems to help, and sometimes you develop a sore throat and hoarseness. You don’t feel sick, but something is definitely amiss. The likely cause is an excess of mucus, leading to post nasal drip. Here’s how you can understand and find relief from this common condition.

What triggers post nasal drip?

Mucus is essential for protecting our nose and throat from infections. However, when the body produces too much mucus, it often drips down the back of the throat, leading to post nasal drip.

Several conditions can cause post nasal drip, including the common cold, sinus infections, and allergies. Inflammation in the nasal passages, caused by viral or bacterial infections, allergies, or airborne irritants, can also increase mucus production, resulting in congestion and post nasal drip.

Other factors that can contribute to post nasal drip include:

  • Cold and Dry Air: These conditions can stimulate mucus production.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes can lead to increased mucus.
  • Spicy Foods: These can temporarily increase mucus production.
  • Bright Lights: Some people may find that exposure to bright lights triggers a reflex increase in mucus.
  • Certain Medications: Birth control pills and high blood pressure medications can cause post nasal drip.
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease): This condition can cause stomach acids to back up into the throat, increasing mucus production.
  • Aging: As we age, our bodies may produce more mucus.

While many people experience post nasal drip occasionally, it can become chronic for others. If this happens, consulting with an experienced ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist is recommended.

Common symptoms of post nasal drip

Post nasal drip can present with various symptoms, the most common of which include:

  • Sore Throat: Persistent irritation in the throat.
  • Throat Clearing: A constant need to clear the throat.
  • Frequent Swallowing: Often due to excess mucus.
  • Bad Breath: Caused by the accumulation of mucus.
  • Coughing: Especially noticeable at night.

In severe cases, post nasal drip can lead to nausea and vomiting because of mucus entering the stomach. Additionally, if the Eustachian tubes (connecting the nose and throat to the middle ear) become blocked, it can result in painful ear infections.

Effective treatments for post nasal drip

Both at-home and professional treatments can help alleviate post nasal drip.

Home remedies

  1. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water and hot liquids to thin the mucus.
  2. Avoid Caffeine and Diuretics: These can lead to dehydration and thicker mucus.
  3. Use Humidifiers and Nasal Steamers: Adding moisture to the air can prevent mucus from thickening.
  4. Elevate Your Head: Sleeping with your head elevated can prevent mucus from pooling in your throat.
  5. Nasal Irrigation: Using a saline solution can help clear out mucus.
  6. Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications: Decongestants like Sudafed, and antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Allegra, Xyzal, and Claritin, can be effective. Mucinex and Benadryl are also popular choices.

Always follow the directions for OTC medications and adhere to recommended usage durations.

When to see an ENT specialist

If at-home treatments and OTC medications don’t provide relief, it’s essential to consult with an ENT specialist. Treatment options will depend on the underlying cause but may include prescription-strength nasal sprays or other targeted therapies.

Preventing post nasal drip

Taking preventive measures can help reduce the frequency of post nasal drip:

  • Avoid Allergens: Identify and steer clear of allergens that trigger your symptoms.
  • Keep a Clean Environment: Maintain a clean, dust-free living space.
  • Change Filters Regularly: Frequently replace HVAC filters to ensure clean air circulation.
  • Use Daily Allergy Medications: Consider taking an allergy pill daily.
  • Shower at Night: Especially if you’ve been outdoors during the day, to remove allergens.

If you suffer from chronic post nasal drip or if over-the-counter medications are not providing relief, find an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist near you to explore treatment.

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