Post-Nasal Drip - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Upper Airway Cough Syndrome

Woman with a cough.
Woman with a cough.. Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Also known as: upper airway cough syndrome (UACS) & postnasal drip syndrom (PNDS)

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 ability to move mucous can change and cause build up or excessively thin secretions.

Here are some conditions that can affect post-nasal drip:

Symptoms of Post-Nasal Drip

Symptoms of post-nasal drip are often non-specific to the reason for your post-nasal drip. Symptoms may 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

For non-infectious or other disease-related causes, treatment of post-nasal drip focuses on correcting the consistency of your nasal secretion. If your secretions are too thick you can:

However, if your secretions are too thin you can try to:

If your post-nasal drip is caused by an infection, then antibiotics are necessary to not only treat your post-nasal drip, but to also prevent any further complications from an untreated illness.

If one of your main symptoms is a cough, your doctor will prescribe you a decongestant and an antihistamine. If after 2-weeks you still do not resolution of your cough, then your doctor may try a nasal steroid.

You may also want to try these home remedies.

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.

Sources:

American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Post-Nasal Drip. Accessed: April 9, 2009 from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/postNasalDrip.cfm

Coughlin, L. (2007). Cough: Diagnosis and Management. Am Fam Physician. 75(4):567-575.

Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Nasal Discharge. Accessed April 9, 2009. from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003051.htm

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