What is post-nasal drip?
The glands in the linings of the nose, airways, and throat continuously produce mucus every day. These glands are also present in the linings of the stomach and intestinal tract. Mucus is nothing but a thick, wet substance that moistens these areas. This mucus also helps clean and protect the membranes against harmful substances.
This mucus is normally swallowed unknowingly, since it gets mixed with one's saliva and drips back down the throat. This mucus is harmless and does not cause any issues. But sometimes, the body starts producing more mucus or mucus that is thicker than normal, and it becomes more noticeable. The excess mucus can exit through the nostrils, giving you a runny nose. When the mucus drips down and accumulates in the back of your nose or your throat, you have what is called post-nasal drip.
Symptoms of Post-nasal Drip
- Constant urge to clear the throat - Frequently clearing one's throat can trigger coughing, which tends to get worse at night. Postnasal drip is seen as one of the most common causes of a cough that doesn't easily go away.
- Sore throat - The collection of excess mucus can also lead to a sore or scratchy throat.
- Excess mucus - Having excessive mucus can cause an infection of the sinuses, since these passages get clogged.
- Ear infection - If the excess mucus goes up to your eustachian tube, it could lead to a painful ear infection. The eustachian tube is the tube that connects the throat to the middle ear.
Causes of Postnasal Drip
There are multiple causes that can trigger the production of excessive mucus. Among them are these:
- Any object that gets stuck in the throat (common among young children)
- As a side effect of certain medications (medicine for blood pressure and birth control pills)
- Changes in weather or temperature
- Eating spicy foods
- Fumes emitted by chemicals, smoke, cleaning products, and other irritants
In some cases, the problem is not about the excessive production of mucus, but due to the fact that mucus is not cleared from the body. Swallowing excess mucus can also lead to a buildup of liquids in the throat, which can feel similar to a postnasal drip. Such problems tend to occur because of age, a medical condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, and certain blockages.
When an individual experiences an increase in thin, clear secretions, it can be due to any of a number of factors, including a cold, the flu, a sudden change in temperature, bright lights, allergies, hormonal changes, and certain kinds of foods. Some medications and structural abnormalities can also lead to an increase in thin secretions. An example of a structural abnormality is a deviated septum.
An increase in thick secretions is often seen during winter due to the dryness of the air in homes or buildings. Thick secretions can also be due to sinusitis, nasal infections, dairy product consumption, and allergies. When a small child has a thick secretion coming from only one side of the nose, it probably means that something is stuck in the nose such as paper or a piece of a toy. In such a case, a visit to the pediatrician is a must.
Treatment of Post-nasal Drip
The treatment of post-nasal drip varies from one person to another since it largely depends on the cause. There are certain antibiotics that can help treat bacterial infections. However, if the post-nasal drip is due to a viral infection such as the common cold or flu, then antibiotics will not be effective, and a different course of treatment will be recommended.
If the post-nasal drip is caused by a sinus infection or sinusitis, then antihistamines and decongestants usually work. They are known to be effective along with steroids or nasal sprays, which are usually given if the condition is triggered by allergies. However, over-the-counter antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine or diphenhydramine may not work for post-nasal drip.
Other types of antihistamines such as loratadine, cetirizine, fexofenadine, and levocetirizine, can play a better role in the treatment of post-nasal drip. These medicines are less likely to cause drowsiness. However, it would be good to first check with the doctor before taking any of these medications. Their side effects can range from mouth dryness to dizziness.
Another treatment would be to thin the accumulated mucus. If the mucus is thick, it could cause more issues that can be bothersome. Keeping the mucus thin will help prevent blocked ears and sinusitis. A natural home remedy to thin out the mucus is increasing your water intake.
These are other methods to help relieve post-nasal drip:
- Using a humidifier or vaporizer - to increase air moisture.
- Taking expectorants - such as Mucinex (guaifenesin) to relieve chest and throat congestion.
- Nasal irrigation - such as neti pot to help flush out mucus, allergens, or bacteria.
- Steroid nasal sprays - to relieve allergies and nasal inflammation.
Home Remedies for Postnasal Drip
1. Salt Water Gargle
Gargling with salt water is known to be one of the most effective home remedies for nasal and throat problems. A salt water gargle eases the discomfort caused by post-nasal drip. Salt water helps to thin out mucus secretion by flushing it out of the body smoothly. It also helps in flushing out other irritants from the nasal passage.
To make a salt water gargle, add half a teaspoon of salt into one cup of warm water. Stir this mixture until the salt dissolves. Gargle with this solution 2-3 times a day. You can continue this practice indefinitely until you find relief from the discomfort. You can also use rock salt for gargling. Rock salt has anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe throat irritation. It also helps dissolve accumulated mucus.
2. Baking Soda
Baking soda is known to have multiple benefits. To make use of this remedy, mix a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda into a cup of warm water. With the help of a nasal syringe, squirt this mixture into the nostril by closing off the back of the palate and the throat. Once you squirt the mixture, tilt your head to the right and left sideways, and then forward and backward. Hold each position for some time so that the mixture gets into each of the four sinus cavities. Do this for the other nostril as well. Once you swish everything around, blow your nose. Try doing this process up to five times a day. You can also do this remedy to avoid a future occurrence of postnasal drip.
3. Nasal Irrigation
Nasal irrigation is another method to clear out excess mucus and at the same time keep the nasal passage free of irritants to prevent the risk of infections. Add one-fourth teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking soda into a cup of warm water. Place the solution in a neti pot. Stand near a sink and tilt your head to one side. Squirt the solution into one of your nostrils. Tip your head back, forward, and side to side so that the solution reaches the nasal cavities. When you are done, blow your nose to remove the excess solution and mucus. Repeat the same process with the other nostril. Perform this method at least once a day and a few times a week. If you are not sure how to perform this method, ask your doctor for guidance.
4. Increase Fluid Intake
One of the most common defenses against post-nasal drip is to keep yourself hydrated. Having enough water in the body keeps the mucus thin. The body as well as the nasal passages are kept at normal if you are well-hydrated. Make sure you drink at least eight glasses of water a day for proper body hydration.
Onion is a natural antibiotic that fights infections. It helps get rid of phlegm by helping its easy expulsion from the body. Onion juice can also be taken as a tonic and leads to a speedy recovery. Another way to consume onion is by making a special onion and ginger mixture. Finely chop one onion and grate a piece of ginger. Place both the onion and grated ginger in a pan over low heat. Add three teaspoons of sugar to the mixture and stir for a while. Turn off the heat, cover the pan with a lid, and leave the mixture in the pan for around 10-15 minutes. Once the mixture cools down, you should eat it. Make and eat this mixture three times a day.
Ginger is a natural decongestant. It also possesses expectorant, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. Ginger can help reduce an excessive production of mucus and also aids in its expulsion. Ginger is also known to provide relief from chest congestion and sore throat, which are a couple of the common symptoms of post-nasal drip.
You can chew raw ginger slices several times a day, or it can be added when cooking. Another method of consuming ginger is to drink ginger tea. To prepare the tea, add a tablespoon of sliced ginger in a cup of water and tea leaves mixture. Simmer over low heat for ten minutes. Strain the mixture and add honey to taste. Consume ginger tea at least 2-3 times a day.
7. Steam Inhalation
Steam inhalation can be done with or without essential oils. Steam inhalation is important to control the overproduction of mucus, which results in post-nasal drip. The process for steam inhalation is to first prepare a bowl of boiling water, to which you can add essential oils if you want. Drape a towel over your head and hold your face over the bowl of hot water.
Note that your face should not be too close to the hot water to avoid skin burns. Now, deeply inhale the steam for about ten minutes. Once you're done, blow your nose to expel excess mucus. This process should be done at least 2-3 times a day until you have completely recovered. You can also take hot showers or baths to help break up the mucus.
Note, however, that steam inhalation is not recommended for small children, since their skin is still too sensitive to heat and they might end up getting steam burns.
Garlic is a powerful herb loaded with antibiotic properties. It can help control the excessive production of mucus and also prevent any kind of infection. Moreover, it promotes a speedy recovery. You can take garlic supplements as recommended by the doctor. Another option is to chew raw garlic cloves a few times a day. You could also chop around 3-4 garlic cloves and roast them in a teaspoon of butter for a minute. Eat them with warm milk twice a day. This remedy should be done for a few days.
9. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper acts as an antihistamine, and is very helpful in treating postnasal drip. Capsaicin, found in cayenne, is very helpful when it comes to thinning mucus. It also provides a soothing effect and helps with throat irritation.
Mix one-half teaspoon of powdered cayenne pepper and honey. Take this mixture 2-3 times on a daily basis for a few days until your post-nasal drip problem is resolved. Apart from this mixture, you can also mix one-half to one teaspoon of powdered cayenne pepper into a cup of warm water. Sip this mixture slowly. You can drink this mixture a few times a day. You can also add cayenne pepper when cooking food so that you can consume it in your meals.
10. Black Pepper
Black pepper is known to be the king of spices since it is loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals. It also possesses antimicrobial properties that can help get rid of infections and treat a number of health problems. It is useful in the prevention of excessive mucus production.
With its various properties, black pepper helps to detoxify the body and keeps it free from any foreign invaders that may attack the body. You can add black pepper when cooking or crush around five or six peppercorns. In a pan, heat one teaspoon of ghee and roast the crushed peppercorns for a minute. You can then add a lump of sugar to this mixture. Consume the mixture while it is still hot. This can be taken twice on a daily basis. However, remember that you should not drink water for at least half an hour after eating this mixture.