If you've ever had a particularly nasty bit of phlegm in the back of your throat, you've experienced post-nasal drip. Think of it like a runny nose in the back of your throat. The nose and throat normally house mucous. Mucous traps bacteria and keeps unwanted debris out, serving an important function in immunity. Excess mucous is swallowed unconsciously most of the time, but when conditions such as a cold or flu arise, the fluidity of mucous can change and cause build up or excessively thin secretions. Here are some conditions that can affect post-nasal drip:
- eating spicy foods
- birth control and high blood pressure medications
- structural abnormalities, such as deviated septum or enlarged turbinates
- dry air
- eating a lot of dairy products
Symptoms of Post-Nasal Drip
Symptoms of post-nasal drip include difficulty swallowing, feeling like there's a lump in your throat, coughing, a constant need to clear your throat and hoarseness.
Treatment of Post-Nasal Drip
If your secretions are thick:
- use a cool mist humidifier
- drink plenty of water
- OTC saline nasal sprays
- stay away from dairy products
If your secretions are thin:
- treat allergies
- avoid spicy foods
- try a decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine
- drink plenty of water
- treat structural abnormalities such as deviated septum, nasal polyps or enlarged tonsils
- avoid cold temperatures
When to Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if post-nasal drip is accompanied by severe symptoms such as a fever or difficulty breathing, or if your symptoms have lasted longer than a few weeks. Also see your doctor if you notice a thick, foul-smelling discharge.
It may eventually be necessary to see a specialist to identify and treat the cause. Some people believe that if the color of mucous is green or yellow, it indicates a viral infection. This is not always true. Most colds are caused by viruses, so don't expect to be given an antibiotic.
Post-nasal drip is very common and rarely serious, though it can be caused by some conditions that require medical intervention. If you are unsure or your symptoms are not manageable, it's best to call your doctor.
American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Post-Nasal Drip. Accessed: April 9, 2009 from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/postNasalDrip.cfm
Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Nasal Discharge. Accessed April 9, 2009. from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003051.htm