Post-nasal drip, the dripping of mucus down at the back of the throat from the nasal cavity, sometimes occurs in healthy persons.
Post-nasal drip is usually caused by conditions such as rhinitis
, gastroesophageal reflux disease
(GERD) and sinusitis. The most frequent cause of post-nasal drip is a seasonal allergy.
Our body produces mucus, a thick and wet substance along the lining of nose, throat, windpipe (trachea), food pipe (esophagus), stomach and the intestinal tract. The mucus helps in:
- Preventing dust particles entering the airways.
- Lubrication of the lining of the airways.
- Fighting infection.
- Humidifying the inhaled air.
A normal individual produces about 1 to 2 liters of mucus per day.
Under normal conditions, the mucus produced in the nasal cavity and throat mixes with saliva and is swallowed without noticing. When the mucus produced is thicker or more in quantity than usual, it is noticed by the individual. The excess mucus that is secreted from the front of the nose causes a running nose. When the excess mucus runs down the back of the nose, the condition is called post-nasal drip.
The mucus may either be thin or thick and can be caused by various conditions or infections.
What are the Causes of Post-Nasal Drip?
Thin nasal secretions and the resultant post-nasal drip is caused by:
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Spicy food
- Cold temperature
- Deviated nasal septum
- Pregnancy and hormonal changes
- Medications for blood pressure and birth control pills
- Fumes from perfumes, smoke, bleaching powder and chemicals
- Occupational asthma
Thick secretions and the resultant post-nasal drip is caused by:
- Food such as dairy products
- Exposure to low humid conditions in winter
- Sinus infections
- Nasal polyps
- Enlarged adenoids
- Thyroid disorders
- Foreign body in the nose, like a bean, bead or a piece of toy especially in children. The secretion will be only from one side of the nose.
Sometimes post-nasal drip may be due to the build-up of fluids at the back of the throat due to a problem with swallowing. Swallowing difficulties may occur due to GERD, age-related changes, under stress, or growth or swelling in food passages.
What are the Symptoms of Post-Nasal Drip?
Most common symptom of post-nasal drip is the constant need to clear the throat because of the disturbance caused by the dripping mucus. Other symptoms include:
- Clear nasal discharge
- Continuous sore throat
- Ear infection (spreading of infected mucus to the ear via the Eustachian tube)
- Hoarseness of voice
- Tonsils and adenoids appear to have white crystals
- Congestion of nose or sinus
- Bad breath
- Constantly spitting the mucus
- Blood may be seen in mucus
- Nausea and vomiting when lot of mucus gets accumulated
- Chest itch and abdominal discomfort
- Burning sensation in the throat
How do you Treat Post-Nasal Drip?
Treatment for post-nasal drip is different for each condition depending on the cause.
- Antibiotics are given for bacterial infections.
- Decongestants help in treating post-nasal drip caused by sinusitis and viral infections.
- Antihistamines can help in the management of allergies.
- Steroids, nasal sprays and immunotherapy may be prescribed by the doctor depending on the type and severity of the problem.
- Gastroesophageal reflux is managed by holding the head of the bed six to eight inches above the lying down position while sleeping.
- Nasal irrigation, washing of the nasal cavity with water, is sometimes done to prevent clogging and the resultant infection.
- Steam inhalation can give some relief by thinning the mucus and easing the flow.
How do you Prevent Post-Nasal Drip?
Post-nasal drip can be prevented by identifying the cause and avoiding it. Some of the simple measures that can help keep post-nasal drip at bay are as follows.
- Drink a lot of water. This can thin down the mucus and ease the flow.
- Under dry environmental conditions, use a vaporizer to increase the moisture in the air.
- Keep your pillows and mattresses dust-proof and mite-proof. Clean them in hot water with a suitable disinfectant.
- Use mild perfumes and deodorants.
- Avoid drinking cold water or juices if you are prone to post-nasal drip.
- Regularly clean sofas, cushions, pillows and mattresses to keep them dust-proof and insect-proof.