What Is Postnasal Drip? Diagnosis, Home Remedies, and Relief
What is Post-Nasal Drip?
Post-nasal drip happens when the nose and throat produce an excessive amount of mucus. This extra mucus can't drain properly through the nasal passages and instead drips down the back of the throat. This can cause symptoms, such as coughing, sore throat, and nasal congestion.
What Causes Post-Nasal Drip?
While post-nasal drip can be uncomfortable and annoying, it’s usually not serious. However, with different causes for it, like allergies or an infection, it’s important to know which you have so that it can be treated effectively. Here are some of the most common causes of post-nasal drip:
When a person is exposed to allergens such as pollen, dust, or pet dander, their body launches an immune system response that can result in the production of excess mucus. The most common allergens that cause post-nasal drip are seasonal allergies to pollen from trees, grasses, or weeds.
Viral or bacterial infections such as the flu or sinus infections can also cause post-nasal drip. When a person is infected, their nose and throat become inflamed, causing an overproduction of mucus. This mucus can then drain down the back of your throat, causing the post-nasal drip.
Sinusitis is another common cause of post-nasal drip. This occurs when the sinuses become inflamed, which can also cause an overproduction of mucus. The mucus can then drain down the back of the throat, causing the post-nasal drip.
Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy, menopause, or menstruation, can affect the number of mucus secretions produced by the body and lead to post-nasal drip.
Certain medications, such as high blood pressure medications, birth control pills, and antidepressants, can cause post-nasal drip as a side effect. If you are taking medication and experiencing post-nasal drip, speak with your doctor to determine if the medication is the cause.
Structural abnormalities in the nose or throat, such as a deviated septum, can block the normal drainage of mucus and cause post-nasal drip. Nasal growths like nasal polyps can also cause these blockages.
Post-Nasal Drip Symptoms
Post-nasal drip can cause many uncomfortable symptoms, including coughing, sore throat, nasal congestion, and more. These symptoms can be annoying and interfere with daily activities. If left untreated, post-nasal drip can lead to more serious complications. Here are some of the most common symptoms.
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Bad breath
- Hoarse voice
- Ear pain
In some cases, post-nasal drip can also cause headaches, difficulty swallowing, and frequent throat clearing. If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important to see a doctor to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment.
Is Post-Nasal Drip Contagious?
Post-nasal drip itself is not contagious. However, the underlying conditions that cause it, such as viral infections or sinusitis, can be contagious. So, if someone has a post-nasal drip caused by a contagious illness, it is possible to spread the illness to others.
How is Post-Nasal Drip Diagnosed?
Post-nasal drip is diagnosed based on a person's symptoms, medical history, and physical examination. Your doctor may perform a nasal examination to check for any signs of inflammation or infection and may also ask about your symptoms to determine what is causing your post-nasal drip.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend additional tests to help determine the underlying cause, including:
- Nasal Endoscopy: This is when a thin, flexible tube with a light on the end is inserted into the nose to examine the nasal passages and throat.
- Allergy Testing: Allergy testing, including skin or blood tests, can help determine if allergies are causing post-nasal drip.
- X-rays or CT Scans: Your doctor can use X-rays or CT scans to examine the sinuses and determine if any structural problems are contributing to post-nasal drip.
At-home allergy tests can also help determine what allergies are causing your post-nasal drip. Wyndly’s at-home allergy test involves taking a small finger prick test from the comfort of your home. The test results can help determine what allergens are triggering your symptoms which makes it easier to create a personalized treatment plan based on your triggers.
How is Post-Nasal Drip Treated?
Post-nasal drip is a common condition that can cause discomfort and distress. The treatment for it depends on the underlying cause, and several effective approaches can provide relief.
First, you can try home remedies before you finally resolve to see a doctor. Salt water rinses, using a neti pot, and taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications are all potential treatments for post-nasal drip.
Additionally, nasal irrigation with a squirt bottle or a neti pot can help flush out irritants or allergens from the nasal passages. Other home remedies include drinking warm broth, staying hydrated, sleeping on propped-up pillows, inhaling steam or using a humidifier, and using essential oils or apple cider vinegar. Here are other treatment options based on the cause.
Post-nasal drip allergies can be treated with a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Medications, such as OTC or prescription decongestants, antihistamines, and nasal sprays, can help relieve post-nasal drip symptoms temporarily. Some types of allergy medicine that can provide short-term relief for post-nasal drip include antihistamine medications such as loratadine (Alvert, Claritin), guaifenesin (Mucinex), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), fexofenadine (Allegra), or cetirizine (Zyrtec).
SLIT is the best treatment option for long-term relief. SLIT involves taking small doses of an allergen under the tongue and effectively reduces post-nasal drip allergies and other allergy symptoms, such as sneezing and itching. SLIT works by gradually building up a tolerance to the allergen, reducing the body's reaction over time.
Post-nasal drip caused by a deviated septum can be treated with surgery to correct the structural problem. Septoplasty is a common procedure that involves straightening the nasal septum, which separates the nostrils. This procedure can help improve breathing and reduce post-nasal drip symptoms.
Post-nasal drip caused by bacterial infections and viruses can be treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will prescribe the appropriate antibiotics to target the specific bacteria causing the infection. They may also prescribe a steroid nasal spray, decongestant, or nasal saline irrigation, depending on your symptoms.
Chronic Acid Reflux
Post-nasal drip caused by chronic acid reflux can be treated with lifestyle changes and medications. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, avoiding trigger foods, and not lying down after eating, can help relieve post-nasal drip symptoms. Medications, such as proton pump inhibitors and antacids, can also help reduce acid reflux.
It's important to see a doctor if you experience symptoms to receive an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. Your doctor will work with you to determine the underlying cause and develop a treatment plan that is right for you.
You can take several steps to prevent post-nasal drip and reduce your risk of developing symptoms.
- Avoid Triggers: Identifying and avoiding triggers, such as environmental irritants, certain foods, and stress, can help prevent post-nasal drip. Common triggers include dust, pet dander, strong odors, and spicy foods.
- Keep the Air Moist: Using a humidifier or nasal saline spray can help keep the air moist and reduce symptoms. This is especially important during winter when indoor air is dry.
- Drink Plenty of Fluids: Staying hydrated is important for overall health and can help thin mucus and prevent post-nasal drip. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
- Practice Good Hygiene: Regularly washing your hands and avoiding close contact with people who are sick can help prevent post-nasal drip caused by bacterial or viral infections.
- Manage Allergies: If allergies are a trigger for your post-nasal drip, taking steps to manage your allergies, such as avoiding allergens or taking allergy medications, can help prevent symptoms. Allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, can also be effective in reducing allergy symptoms.
- Maintain a Healthy Diet: Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoiding foods that are high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat can help reduce the risk of post-nasal drip.
- Avoid Irritating Substances: Avoiding substances such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, car fumes, and strong perfumes can help prevent symptoms.
When to See a Doctor
It's important to see a doctor if you experience persistent or severe symptoms of post-nasal drip. Some specific instances when it may be necessary to seek medical attention include:
- Persistent Symptoms: If your symptoms last longer than a few weeks or are affecting your daily life, then you should go see a doctor. Also, see a doctor if you develop a high fever, are wheezing, or the drainage smells bad.
- Change in Mucus Color: If the mucus secretions change color, such as from clear to yellow or green, this may be a sign of a bacterial infection, and it is important to seek medical attention.
- Difficulty Breathing: If you are experiencing difficulty breathing or feel like your airways are blocked, this may be a sign of a more serious condition.
- Chronic Acid Reflux: If you have chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and are experiencing symptoms of post-nasal drip, see a doctor to determine if the two conditions are related.
If your post-nasal drip is caused by seasonal allergies, you should see a doctor if you experience persistent or severe symptoms despite trying OTC treatments. Some other common symptoms of seasonal allergies include a runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, congestion, and hives. If these symptoms are affecting your daily life and causing significant discomfort, it may be time to see a doctor.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you suffer from post-nasal drip, Wyndly's at-home allergy test can help you identify the cause of your symptoms. This easy-to-use test kit measures your sensitivity to common indoor and outdoor allergens, so you can find out what is causing your allergies and take steps to fix them.
Take our quick online allergy assessment to see if Wyndly is right for you!