Your body produces mucus constantly throughout the day – one to two quarts, to be exact. It mixes with saliva and is swallowed, a normal and harmless response that you usually don’t notice. When excess mucus is created or it is thicker than usual, it becomes noticeable as it runs down the back of the nose to the throat. This is known as postnasal drip.
Causes of Postnasal Drip
An excess of mucus can be caused by a variety of factors. These include colds, flu, allergies, sinus infections, cold temperatures, bright lights, certain foods, hormonal changes (including pregnancy), fumes from chemicals or perfumes, certain types of medications and structural abnormalities such as a deviated septum. 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.
Symptoms of Postnasal Drip
The primary symptom of postnasal drip is a sore and irritated throat. Although there is typically no infection accompanying postnasal drip, tissues in the throat may swell. Postnasal drip can cause a number of side effects including cough, sore throat, hoarseness, ear and sinus infections. It is the most common cause of chronic coughing, which can be especially bothersome at night.
Treatment for Postnasal Drip
Treatment for postnasal drip depends on the cause. Over-the-counter medications – antihistamines, decongestants and saline nasal sprays – are often used successfully to manage symptoms. Drugs containing the mucus-thinning agent guaifenesin (Mucinex, Robitussin, etc.) may prove helpful.
You can try irrigating the nasal passages using a neti pot to get rid of excess mucus. Use of a humidifier to moisten the air can also help. If a bacterial infection is the cause, you’ll need antibiotic treatment. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a frequent cause of swallowing problems, can be treated with antacids.
Call David R Brown MD Ear, Nose and Throat at (505) 820-9945 for more information or to schedule an appointment.