Drooling, or sialorrhea, is when saliva drains outside of the mouth. Drooling can be common in neurological disorders as well as several disorders related to the ear, nose, and throat. While drooling in infants and toddlers is usually a sign of teething and not disease, you should be aware of the various conditions that can be associated with drooling. In rare cases, drooling can be a sign of a life-threatening illness.
What Can Cause Drooling?
Drooling can often occur when there is pain or difficulty with swallowing. As saliva builds up in the mouth, the natural response is to swallow the excess saliva. Conditions that can cause drooling include:
- strep throat
- untreated GERD in infants and children
- peritonsillar abscess
- retropharyngeal abscess
- nasal obstruction
- sore throat
- nasal allergies
- swollen tongue
- neurological disorders, such as cerebral palsy or Parkinson's disease
- muscular dystrophy or other degenerative muscular diseases
- any condition that can affect a person's ability to swallow
Many of the disorders above will be accompanied with fever. Drooling that occurs suddenly, and cannot be related to a chronic condition or teething, should always be assessed by a physician. If your physician’s office is not open, you should proceed to an urgent care clinic or emergency room (depending on what is available given your area and insurance status) for an evaluation. Failure to seek early care could lead to further complications from difficulty swallowing (such as aspiration pneumonia).
Drooling associated with neurological disorders or other chronic conditions that may affect the swallowing or gag reflex can also result in choking or aspiration (inhaling fluid or food into the lungs). This is an emergency. For more information, read All About Choking.
How Is Drooling Treated?
Treatment of drooling depends on the specific disorder and determining the root cause. For example, if drooling is the result of an infection, sometimes antibiotics are used. If drooling is the result of severe tonsillitis, the tonsils may have to be surgically removed. In cases where the underlying cause cannot be cured, medications can be utilized to treat drooling. Scopolamine patches, glycopyrrolate, and botulinum toxin are medications that can be used to decrease the amount of production from salivary glands.
Medline Plus. (2010). Drooling. Accessed: September 4, 2011 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003048.htm
Hockstein, N.G., Samadi, D.S., Gendron, K.,& Handler, S.D. (2004). Sialorrhea: a management challenge. American Family Physician. 2004 Jun 1:69(11):2628-2635. Accessed: September 4, 2011 from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2004/0601/p2628.html