We’ve all been there—that moment when you wake up and something just doesn’t feel right. There’s a tingling in your throat. It’s uncomfortable to swallow. You have a cough that just won’t quit.
While both a sore throat and post-nasal drip are common symptoms of various ailments—including allergies, colds, and flus—they require different treatments depending on the cause.
Generally, you swallow mucus, along with saliva, without even realizing it, in tiny increments throughout the day. It’s easy to think of mucus as something that occurs only when you’re sick, but it’s actually crucial to your respiratory health. It moistens and cleanses your nasal lining, keeps the air passing through moist, and helps fight infection by filtering out bacteria and viruses when you inhale.
The problems begin when your nose starts producing more mucus than it should (or mucus that’s thicker than usual), making it hard for it to drain properly. Sometimes the extra mucus exits through your nostrils, resulting in a runny nose. When the mucus drips down the back of your nose down into your throat, though, it’s known as post-nasal drip.
Post-nasal drip can be caused by a lot of different things. Like we said before, allergies, colds, and flus are common triggers, but it can also induced by:
A sore throat (known in medical lingo as pharyngitis) is most commonly caused by a viral infection, like the cold or the flu, or a bacterial infection, like strep.
The treatment often depends on the cause. For example, sore throats from colds and flus often go away on their own—though you may want to try different medications and home remedies to relieve the pain until it does—while sore throats from a bacterial infection require antibiotics.
Post-nasal drip can absolutely feel like a sore throat, especially since many common respiratory illnesses lead to both.
When it comes to figuring out whether you have post-nasal drip or a sore throat, there are certain symptoms to look for. While both may include a burning or scratchy sensation in the throat and a persistent cough, each has a unique set of symptoms as well.
It’s true that there’s a lot of overlapping symptoms among COVID-19 and colds, flus, allergies, and bacterial and sinus infections, but post-nasal drip isn’t one of them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are dry cough, fever, tiredness, and in some cases, aches and pains, nasal congestion, sore throat, and runny nose.
Of course, even if you’re pretty sure what you have is post-nasal drip, if you think there’s a chance you have COVID-19, you should get tested and quarantine until you have your results. And if the cause of your post-nasal drip ends up being something contagious like a cold or flu, as opposed to allergies or a deviated septum, it’s a good idea to limit interactions with other people so you don’t get them sick.
How you treat your sore throat symptoms will depend on what’s causing them. There is some overlap with how to manage a sore throat caused by post-nasal drip and one not caused by post-nasal drip. In both cases, you should avoid pollution and irritants (such as cigarette smoke and being too close to cleaning products), gargle with warm water and salt, and use a humidifier and/or HEPA filter.
The best way to combat a sore throat caused by post-nasal drip is to attack the source by treating the post-nasal drip itself. In addition to the solutions mentioned above, you can also:
If it turns out your sore throat isn’t the result of post-nasal drip, your treatment options will be a bit different. On top of avoiding pollution and irritants, gargling with saltwater, and using a humidifier, you should also:
Both post-nasal drip and sore throats will often go away on their own, but each can be a symptom of a larger condition. If the above treatments don’t help, schedule an appointment with your doctor. If it turns out you’re experiencing post-nasal drip and sore throat symptoms from allergies, then Picnic can help! We offer a number of allergy treatments, including a nasal spray designed to tackle symptoms like post-nasal drip and throat lozenges. Read our guide on decongestants for allergies and take our quiz to find out which post-nasal drip medicine will —wait for it—blow your allergies away.