Post nasal drip is the sensation of mucus dripping through the throat, which can be caused by various factors like allergies. Apart from causing discomfort, this condition may also lead to ear and/or sinus infections.
What is Post Nasal Drip
Normally, the mucus produced by the glands lining the nose and sinuses are pushed downward to the throat by the invisible hair-like celia on the surface of the lining. This mucus carries out lubrication of the nasal membranes, fights infection, and traps and eliminates foreign substances. In normal cases, the mucus is drained into the stomach without causing any irritation or harm. But certain medical conditions, medications, allergens, and atmospheric conditions may cause abnormalities in the normal secretion and flow of the mucus.
In case of increased production of nasal mucus, the celia becomes unable to control the flow and this results in mucus accumulation in the back of the nose. The accumulated mucus becomes thick and sticky and blocks the nasal passages. This mucus may be released through the back of the throat, causing a sensation of dripping. This condition, wherein the accumulated mucus drains through the back of the throat is called post nasal drip. Such mucus can be thin, thick, or sticky, as per the underlying cause. Though this is not a life-threatening condition in itself, it can cause other problems, like ear and sinus infections. So the condition has to be diagnosed and treated at the earliest.
Post nasal drip may be caused by various factors that may vary from one person to another. One of the common causes for this condition is cold and flu. Other causes include allergies and inhalation of nasal irritants (like smoke, certain chemical fumes, and perfumes). Conditions like sinusitis, rhinitis, certain viral and bacterial infections can also be a reason for post nasal drip. In some people, pregnancy and hormonal changes are found to be behind such mucus flow. Regular smoking and/or alcohol consumption may also be a contributory factor.
Intake of spicy foods, dairy products, and particular food items is also associated with post nasal drip in some people. In some other cases, it has been observed that certain factors can reduce the fluid content in the nasal mucus, thereby thickening and accumulating it. This is mostly seen in those with deviated septum or enlarged adenoids. Even foreign bodies lodged inside the nasal passages and low humidity levels can cause this condition. Use of antihistamines, blood pressure medications, and birth control pills may also cause post nasal drip. Swallowing disorders, aging, acid reflux, increasing stress levels, and certain disorders of the nerves and muscles are also among the causes. Even head injury can cause this condition.
Signs and Symptoms
Apart from the mucus draining through the throat, post nasal drip can cause other symptoms, which are given below:
- Post nasal drip cough
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Constant spitting and swallowing
- Constant clearing of the throat
- Hoarse voice
- Breathing trouble
- Tonsil stones (yellow or white crystals found on the tonsils)
- Itchy throat and chest
Other than these, the affected person may also experience certain symptoms that are caused by the underlying condition. For example, in case of allergies, watery and itchy eyes and running nose, can be the symptoms. Such symptoms may not be the same for all, as the underlying cause differs. So, correct diagnosis is very important, so as to cure post nasal drip as well as the underlying cause.
Treatment for this condition depends on the cause. Hence, a correct diagnosis with the help of laboratory, endoscopic, and x-ray studies (of ear, nose and throat) is very much necessary. If the cause is allergies, it is treated with antihistamines, decongestants, steroid nasal sprays, and other forms of steroids. This type of post nasal drip can be managed to some extent by avoiding the causes. If the cause is bacterial infection, it can be treated with antibiotics, but chronic sinus infections may require surgery to open the blocked sinuses.
Laryngopharyngeal acid reflux is treated with antacids and drugs that block acid production in the stomach. If the reason cannot be diagnosed, then medications are aimed at thinning the mucus and some measures are taken to allow its free flow. These steps include drinking more fluids, avoiding caffeine and alcohol. You may also try certain post nasal drip home remedies, which are suitable for your physical condition.
If left untreated, post nasal drip can cause ear infections, sore throat, severe sinus infections and upper respiratory infections. You can approach your physician, who may ask you to consult an allergist, a gastroenterologist or an otolaryngologist for treating the condition. In case a person experiences other symptoms like high fever, bloody and/or foul-smelling discharge, he/she must seek immediate medical attention. The same applies to those who have prolonged (more than ten days) post nasal drip.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.