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Welcome to our health education library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.

Postnasal Drip

What is postnasal drip?

Postnasal drip, or catarrh, is a condition where large amounts of mucus from the nose drip into the back of the throat.

A “runny nose” occurs when mucus inside the nose drips out of the nostrils. Postnasal drip is similar to when you have a runny nose except that the mucus runs into the throat instead and irritates it. This can make it harder to breathe.

What are the causes of postnasal drip?

The inside lining of the nose produces large amounts of mucus in response to an irritation or infection. The common cold typically causes a runny nose, but it can also be a symptom of allergic rhinitis, which is caused by allergies. Most allergens (substances that cause an allergic reaction) are airborne and therefore are inhaled. These can also cause nasal congestion and drip.

A nose that runs continuously is usually a sign of an inflammation, irritation or infection that hasn’t yet been treated.

What are the symptoms and complications of postnasal drip?

Acute rhinitis (the technical term for runny nose) refers to an irritation of the nose that produces sneezing, a burning sensation and a lot of nasal discharge. The nasal passages may also become blocked or congested, making breathing and sleeping difficult. A person may want to constantly “spit up” the mucus to try to clear it.

Since postnasal drip is a symptom of another condition, other symptoms may be present that are linked to whatever is causing the problem. When allergies are responsible for a runny nose, many people experience teary eyes, itchiness of the nose and eyes and headaches. If a person has asthma, the allergic rhinitis may make breathing even more difficult.

How can postnasal drip be treated and prevented?

Stuffiness can be relieved with medication that helps to reduce swelling in the nose by constricting its blood vessels. Pseudoephedrine, a main ingredient in many over-the-counter cold medications taken by mouth, relieves stuffiness and runny nose. People should talk with a doctor or pharmacist before using this medication if they have high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, glaucoma or prostate enlargement. Two other less commonly available oral decongestants with similar warnings are ephedrine and phenylephrine. Nasal spray decongestants include those containing phenylephrine, naphazoline, oxymetazoline or xylometazoline. They should not be used for more than three to five days, as they may cause congestion to worsen when used on a regular basis for longer periods of time.

If an infection is causing postnasal drip, the doctor should identify it. In most cases, a virus causes the infection and antibiotics are not required. Symptomatic treatment with decongestants and painkillers can be used. Sometimes, bacterial infections can occur and antibiotics may be prescribed. However, the body’s immune system usually resolves the problem on its own without antibiotics.

If allergies are responsible, antihistamines and corticosteroids (either nasal sprays or tablets) can help. Avoiding the allergies that cause runny noses can prevent nasal drip from happening again. Many people are allergic only during certain seasons or times of the year, mostly to pollens, molds or weeds.

Year-round causes of allergies include mites, animal dander and molds.

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