Chances are good you know what a runny nose feels like—that constant drip down your face that has you reaching for one tissue after another. But sometimes excess mucus takes another route, dripping backwards down your throat instead of onto your face.
That unpleasant sensation is called post-nasal drip (or post-nasal drippage), and it’s a common symptom of various conditions that affect your sinuses, including allergies. Of course, blowing your nose won’t do anything to clear up your throat, so how can you avoid this uncomfortable symptom? Read on to learn how to ditch the drip.
Before we get to treatments for post-nasal drip, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what that phrase even means.
First off, it’s important to know that there’s nothing abnormal about mucus being in your throat. Your nose and throat are connected (that’s why you see the same doctor, an otolaryngologist, for problems with either body part), so mucus ends up in your throat all the time. Usually, you just swallow it without ever noticing it’s there.
The key phrase there is “without ever noticing.” If so much mucus is gathering in your throat that you can tell it’s there, and it’s bothering you, then you’re dealing with post-nasal drip.
Wondering what post-nasal drip feels like? You’ll know this issue is what you’re facing when you experience these symptoms:
While none of these symptoms are fun to live with, post-nasal drip isn’t usually life-threatening. That said, you should get in touch with a healthcare professional if you experience any of these more severe symptoms, which could be a clue that something more serious is going on:
Depending on what’s causing your post-nasal drip, it could stick around for weeks or months. That’s why it’s so important to get down to the bottom of what’s causing your symptoms (and not just tell yourself to grin and bear it).
As we mentioned earlier, post-nasal drip is very common, and that’s because it’s a symptom of a wide variety of conditions. Here are some of the most common causes of post-nasal drip:
We probably don’t have to tell you that allergic rhinitis (the medical term for allergies) can cause all sorts of annoying nasal symptoms, and that includes post-nasal drip. That’s because increased mucus production is one of the ways your immune system tries to fight off invaders like your allergen.
If you’ve ever had a seasonal cold or flu, you already know that a runny nose is usually one of their many life-disrupting symptoms. Of course, all that excess mucus is just as likely to run the other way, dripping down your throat and aggravating the cough you probably already had.
While we should acknowledge that the facts are still coming in about COVID-19 and post-COVID, it’s safe to say by now that nasal issues, including post-nasal drip, are a common part of the spectrum of symptoms sufferers experience. That could be because your immune system handles COVID-19 in much the same way it would any infection, and that usually means more mucus (ugh).
GERD stands for “gastroesophageal reflux disease,” the chronic form of acid reflux (the condition you’re always hearing about in heartburn commercials). GERD doesn’t technically cause post-nasal drip, but it can feel a lot like it. That’s because the cause of the condition is stomach acid traveling upward into your throat, which can bring on excess swallowing, soreness, and coughing (just like post-nasal drip does).
Sometimes your post-nasal drip isn’t caused by an internal issue (like an infection). In these cases, the symptom is brought on by an external irritant instead, like smoke, air pollution, or dust. That’s because a big part of mucus’ role in the body is trapping airborne irritants when you inhale them, so they don’t get to your lungs. So when your body realizes you’re inhaling one of these substances, it kicks up mucus production.
That means if you’re already allergic to an airborne allergen like dust or pollen, the irritant itself and your immune system’s response make it twice as likely you’ll get hit with post-nasal drip. Yeah, we don’t like those odds either.
Certain medications, including some birth control pills and high blood pressure medications, increase mucus production as a side effect. When that happens, you’re more likely to experience the icky feeling of post-nasal drip, sometimes along with a non-productive cough (one that doesn’t produce mucus). Usually, stopping the medication will be enough to reverse the effect.
Colds, flus, and COVID-19 are all different types of infections, so it makes sense that sinus infections also cause post-nasal drip. What makes sinus infections different is that they can be bacterial (rather than viral like those other illnesses), and therefore require different treatment.
If the mucus coming out of your throat or nose gets thicker and turns green or yellow, that could be a sign of a bacterial infection. That would mean your over-the-counter cold medicine isn’t going to cut it, and you’ll need to speak to a doctor about getting an antibiotic.
While you might be tempted to reach for a decongestant when you hear “too much mucus,” you’ll get better results fighting post-nasal drip by tackling the root cause rather than the symptom itself. As you can tell by now, post-nasal drip has a wide variety of potential causes. But once you know which one you’re up against, you’ll have a good idea of your best course of action.
These are some of the most effective treatments for post-nasal drip:
Most people suffering from post-nasal drip want the same thing: a throat that finally feels normal again. But what route you’ll need to take to get to that destination is going to vary widely depending on what’s causing your discomfort. Talking to a healthcare professional is the best way to nail down the root cause of your post-nasal drip and identify the proper treatment.