Ear, Nose & Throat

The Effects of Post-Nasal Drip

written by Becki Andrus
The Effects of Post Nasal Drip - CC ENT Blog

For most people, postnasal drip seems like an insignificant annoyance. But the truth is that this small concern can lead to other health issues in the ears, nose, and throat.

If you have chronic post nasal drip, then it might be time to speak with an ENT for a diagnosis and treatment options.

What You Need to Know about Post Nasal Drip

When postnasal drip is occurring, it means that you can feel extra mucus in the back of the throat and nose. The glands in these areas might be over-producing mucus, causing you to feel like you need to swallow or clear your throat more often than normal.

It is normal for the sinuses, nose, and throat to produce mucus constantly. This slippery substance moisturizes the airways and filters out particles from the air. For example, when you breathe in, mucus can be beneficial for trapping pollen, germs, and environmental pollutants so they can be eliminated before entering the body.

Normal mucus production is harmless, and you aren’t aware of the functions that are happening in your airways. Usually, this mucus mixes in with your saliva production and moves into the stomach. Or, you blow your nose and the mucus is expelled into the tissue.

When the mucus production is higher than normal, that is when you start to notice postnasal drip and corresponding symptoms.

Signs You Have Post Nasal Drip

Here are some of the most common symptoms experienced as a result of postnasal drip”

  • The sensation of mucus in the back of the throat
  • Nausea, due to extra mucus in the stomach
  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Clearing the throat frequently
  • Swallowing mucus
  • Bad breath
  • Coughing, especially at night
  • Hoarseness

These symptoms vary from person to person. Additionally, many of these symptoms can coincide with other health concerns. If you notice that these chronic symptoms are affecting your daily lifestyle, then it might be time to talk to an ENT for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

What Causes Post Nasal Drip?

Most of the time, postnasal drip is caused by changes that happen in the environment or within the body. Common causes include:

  • Allergy: An inflammatory response can occur when your body comes in contact with an allergen. For example, patients with seasonal allergies have an increase in mucus production and post nasal drip when the plants start releasing pollen in the spring and summer months. The extra mucus is produced in an attempt to eliminate the pollen spores from the airways.
  • Dry Air: Low moisture in the air can cause the body to overproduce mucus due to irritation from the dry air. If moisture isn’t available in the environment, then the body creates moisture within the air passages.
  • Cold Weather: Have you noticed that your nose runs more in the cold weather? Breathing cold air can irritate the throat and nose. Mucus production is used to warm the air passages to reduce the irritation.
  • Sickness: Certain illnesses increase mucus production and postnasal drip, such as the common cold, the flu, sinus infections, and other viral infections.
  • Spicy Food: When you eat foods that are overly spicy, the body reacts to the heat in the food. It is common for people to experience an increase in mucus production after eating a spicy meal.
  • Environmental Chemicals: Coming in contact with environmental chemicals can affect mucus levels. Some people experience more postnasal drip from cleaning products, fumes, smoke, and perfume.
  • Other Health Conditions: Other health issues can affect post nasal drip and mucus production. For example, you have a higher risk of postnasal drip during pregnancy. Chronic diagnoses that can contribute include COPD, respiratory conditions, and the use of medications for blood pressure or birth control.
  • Acid Reflux: A sensation of “postnasal drip” but absence of significant drainage out of the front of the nose can suggest acid refluxing up to the level of the voice box (larynx), producing phlegm that is perceived as postnasal drip. In fact, 40% of patients with acid reflux do not have the symptom of heartburn, but instead may manifest with a postnasal drip sensation, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing, as well as chronic dry cough or throat clearing.

Post Nasal Drip Can Lead to Other Health Concerns

Over time, postnasal drip can have an effect on your airways and overall health:

  • Chronic Cough 
  • Hoarse Voice
  • Sinus Infection 

Treatments to Clear Up Post Nasal Drip

Since postnasal drip often coincides with other health conditions, the best treatment solution is to identify the cause. Don’t jump to conclusions – instead, it’s best to work with an experienced ENT for personal recommendations.

Antibiotics are only helpful if the post nasal drip is associated with a bacterial infection such as a sinus infection. Your ENT might recommend that you use other types of medications such as decongestants or antihistamines. Look for antihistamine recommendations to find the right treatment that clears out the mucus without causing it to thicken. Recommendation may be made for a nasal steroid spray or an antihistamine spray. Some patients may benefit from the clarifix treatment for chronic rhinitis. 

Some people have success with at-home remedies to thin the mucus. For example saline nasal sprays or nasal irrigation to flush irritants out of the sinuses can be beneficial. Turning on a humidifier can be helpful to add moisture to the air. Also look for ways to reduce your exposure to allergens, using HEPA air filters and dusting your home regularly.

If your doctor finds acid reflux, institution of medication as well as dietary and lifestyle changes are the treatments of choice.

Scheduling a meeting with an experienced ENT is an important step in clearing up your postnasal drip. If you live near the Denton, Dallas, or Collin County areas, then our team at Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat is ready to help. We have offices conveniently located in Frisco or Plano, TX. You are invited to use the online appointment request form, or call our office to schedule an appointment: (972) 596-4005.

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