Someone holding their throat.
Post-nasal drip happens when there's excess mucus in the nasal cavity.

What Causes Post-Nasal Drip?

Maybe you have felt on the brink of getting sick for a while. Maybe you thought you were on the mend, but there is still one symptom that persists: post-nasal drip. It’s very common and there are ways to get rid of it.

Why We Need Mucus

There should always be a layer of mucus at the back of your throat. We all swallow mucus unconsciously throughout the day—the glands in the nose and throat produce 1 to 2 quarts of mucus each day and it needs to go somewhere. Mucus is a necessary element to help you stay healthy. This fluid humidifies the air we breathe, moistens and cleans the nasal lining, traps particles that are inhaled and helps us fight infection.

What Is Post-Nasal Drip?

Even though our glands are constantly producing mucus, you may feel like you have an excess amount that collects in your throat or drains down from a runny nose. When mucus becomes too thick, or there is too much of it, it causes post-nasal drip. The bright side of post-nasal drip is that it is not usually an infection, but may just be a symptom of a condition, such as allergies, that may promote excessive mucus production. If you get post-nasal drip only a few times a year, there should not be anything to worry about, but if it happens more often, there may be an underlying cause.

Causes of Post-Nasal Drip

Since post-nasal drip is so common, there are a bunch of reasons that you may have it. Some causes are:

  • Old age
  • Medications
  • Vasomotor rhinitis (a condition where you have an overly sensitive nose)
  • Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Allergies or seasonal allergies
  • Swallowing problems
  • Anatomical abnormalities such as a deviated septum or enlarged turbinates
  • Rebound congestion from overuse of certain nasal sprays
  • Strep throat
  • Foreign objects stuck in the nose
  • Exercise-induced rhinitis

Causes will depend on the type of secretion you have as well. Clear secretions can be due to colds, flu, allergies, cold temperatures, spicy foods, hormonal changes, and more.

Thick secretions may be the result of low humidity, allergies, dairy products, dehydration, some medications (antihistamines), or indicate an infection. If the secretion color is green or yellow, it may be a sign of a sinus infection.

Symptoms of Post-Nasal Drip

In general, it lasts a few days or weeks, depending on the cause. Chronic post-nasal drip may last for a long time—sometimes several months. Symptoms are generally mild, they may fluctuate throughout the day, but they do not typically interrupt your daily routine:

  • A sore, irritated throat
  • Feeling mucus drain into the throat
  • Frequent swallowing
  • The need to clear your throat or a lump in the throat
  • A hoarse voice or losing your voice
  • Swelling of the tonsils and other tissues in the throat
  • Occasional or persistent coughing
  • Feeling worse after lying down for a while or speaking for a long time

While symptoms are generally mild, there are still times where you should see a doctor. Anytime you have issues breathing you need to see a medical professional. Having a fever, vomiting, or ear pain may indicate an infection and should be looked at. Your doctor may recommend a physical examination, allergy testing, imaging tests if an anatomical cause is suspected, or interventional testing if GERD is believed to be the possible cause.

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Treatment Options

It often corrects itself and goes away on its own. If it is the result of an underlying issue, proper diagnosis of the condition will help treat the cause which will resolve the post-nasal drip. Depending on the cause of the post-nasal drip, treatments may vary:

  • Prescription medications and over-the-counter treatments, depending on if you have a bacterial infection or allergy, may include antibiotics, nasal spray decongestants, nasal saline irrigations, antihistamines, or oral steroids
  • Avoiding allergens
  • Antacids or acid blockers
  • Vapor rubs to help reduce congestion
  • Surgery to open blocked sinuses, submucosal resection of the nose, or turbinate reduction
  • Cough lozenges to ease a sore throat

Additional Remedies for Post-Nasal Drip

If the drip is mild or you would prefer to take care of it without a trip to the pharmacy, there are some additional actions you can take:

  • Increase your fluid intake. Ingesting more fluids helps to thin out secretions which will make the condition less bothersome than having thicker mucus. Drink more water or herbal tea to lubricate your throat. To stay hydrated, eliminate caffeine and alcohol, and avoid diuretics if possible.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier while you sleep
  • Use a vaporizer or diffuser
  • Use a neti pot to help flush out your nasal passages
  • Elevate the head of your bed 6 to 8 inches
  • Avoid eating or drinking a couple hours before you go to sleep

This condition does not have to be a pesky issue that will not go away. See a doctor if you have chronic post-nasal drip and they will be able to help discover any underlying health issues. Even though mucus serves an important purpose, we do not need an excess amount of it.