Postnasal Drip: causes and symptoms

Conditions such as the common cold, sinusitis, and allergies can lead to postnasal drip, which occurs when excess mucus runs down the back of the nose to the throat. This accumulation in the back of the throat may cause:

  • Congestion;
  • Cough;
  • Sore throat.

Mucus is produced by glands in the lining of the throat, nose, airways, intestine and stomach: it provides moisture and prevents infection. In particular, nose glands account for the production of about a quarter of the mucus in the body every day.

Mucus is thick and wet, but normally goes unnoticed in the nose: mixed with saliva, it drips to the back of the throat and gets swallowed.

A runny nose occurs when the body produces excess, thicker mucus.

What does the color of the mucus mean?

Clear mucus

Healthy nasal passages will produce clear mucus, which helps to prevent particles (e.g. dust or dirt) from reaching the lungs. The body may also produce clear mucus to combat infection and irritation, or in the first stages of allergy or a cold.

White mucus

White mucus is also normal, and can be a sign that the body is producing a thicker mucus in response to an irritation or infection. It can also be caused by dry air or exposure to irritants such as smoke or pollution.

Yellow mucus

Bacterial infections are characterized by yellow mucus and are often treated with antibiotics. The presence of discolored nasal discharge together with it may indicate a sinus infection.

Green mucus

More severe viral or bacterial infections are associated with green mucus. White blood cells fighting the infection are the reason for the coloring. Seeing a doctor is advised when a fever occurs.

Red mucus

Bleeding in the nasal passages is indicated by the presence of red mucus. The cause can be harmless, such as blowing the nose too hard, or more serious, such as cancer. Consulting a doctor is recommended if other symptoms arise.

Brown mucus

Brown mucus can be produced in the case of:

  • Exposure to pollution;
  • Exposure to smoking
  • Presence of dried blood.

If other symptoms arise, consulting a doctor to rule out more serious conditions is advised.

Black mucus

While this is not common, black mucus can indicate:

  • Fungal infection;
  • Exposure to very high levels of pollution;
  • Exposure to high levels of smoke.

Consulting a doctor is recommended if any other symptoms arise.

Postnasal Drip Symptoms

Common symptoms include:

  • Need to clear the throat;
  • Cough that won’t go away or worsens at night;
  • Sore or scratchy throat;
  • Sinus infection;
  • Ear infection;
  • Nausea.

When experiencing nausea after taking a decongestant, consulting a doctor and switching to a different treatment is advised.

Postnasal Drip Causes

There is a variety of reasons for postnasal drip, including:

  • Sinus infection or sinusitis;
  • Allergies;
  • Flu;
  • Certain medications;
  • Deviated septum;
  • Object stuck in the nose (common in children);
  • A change in weather and temperature;
  • Fumes from irritant chemicals, perfumes, cleaning products, smoke;
  • Certain foods.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or other blockages may feel like postnasal drip, as they create problems with swallowing and a subsequent buildup of liquid in the throat.

Postnasal Drip Treatments

The causes of postnasal drip will dictate the type of treatment. In fact:

  • Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections;
  • Antihistamines and decongestants can treat viral infections and sinusitis;
  • Antihistamines, decongestants and steroid nasal spray can treat allergies.

It is recommended to speak to a doctor and select newer antihistamines that cause less drowsiness. Over-the-counter ones (Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton) may thicken the mucus and are not indicated for postnasal drip.

Additionally, drinking lots of water and liquids will help thin out the mucus.

Alternative methods may include:

  • Taking Mucinex;
  • Using saline nasal sprays;
  • Using a Neti pot;
  • Using a vaporizer or humidifier.

Additionally, some home remedies will provide relief and help thin out the mucus. These may include:

  • Drinking lots of water;
  • Eating and hot soups;
  • Taking a hot, steamy shower;
  • Propping up pillows.

Home remedies to reduce allergies include:

  • Wash bedding in hot water;
  • Cover mattresses and pillowcases with dust mite-proof covers;
  • Dust and vacuum;
  • Utilize special HEPA air filters.

Consulting a doctor is advised in case of:

  • Blood in postnasal drip;
  • Fever;
  • Bad smelling drainage;
  • Wheezing;
  • Severe symptoms;
  • Symptoms lasting over ten days.

Humanitas is a highly specialized Hospital, Research and Teaching Center. Built around centers for the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and orthopedic disease – together with an Ophthalmic Center and a Fertility Center – Humanitas also operates a highly specialised Emergency Department.