What Causes Mucous in the Throat?

What is Mucous?

Most of the mucous you feel in the back of your throat is actually produced in your nasal passageways. Mucous is produced in glands which line the sinuses, nasal passageways and throat. Mucous functions to moisten these areas, humidify the air we breathe, and to trap inhaled particles which might be harmful to our bodies, including germs like bacteria and viruses. Believe it our not, we normally produce about 1-2 quarts of mucous per day.

This mucous is continually draining into the back of our throats and being swallowed. Most of the time we don't notice it but when mucous becomes excessive, or abnormally thick or thin we can become aware of it and it can become a nuisance. This usually occurs because we have a cold or other infection, or because we are experiencing allergies.

What Causes Mucous in the Throat?

The sensation of mucous in the back of your throat is often referred to as post nasal drip. Post nasal drip can be caused by:

  • hormonal changes
  • pregnancy
  • eating spicy foods
  • allergies
  • certain medications including birth control or blood pressure medications
  • structural abnormalities such as a deviated septum
  • dehydration or breathing in very dry air
  • a foreign object stuck inside the nose
  • gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)

Mucous in the back of the throat is not only annoying but it can lead to constant swallowing, clearing of the throat or coughing, and a sore throat.

Irritation of the tissue in the throat can lead to swelling, making it even more difficult to swallow or producing the sensation that there is a lump in the throat. Swollen tonsils can also occur. These symptoms usually resolve when post nasal drip is adequately treated.

How is Mucous in the Throat Treated?

Successful treatment of mucous in the throat, or post nasal drip, may depend on the root cause and whether or not you are experiencing abnormally thin or abnormally thick mucous. If you are unable to identify the root cause of your symptoms you should see an otolaryngologist for a proper diagnosis. In general, treatment for mucous in the throat may include:

  • Treating bacterial infections with .
  • Identifying and properly treating allergies with antihistamines or steroid medications, immunotherapy, and/or avoiding allergy triggers.
  • Treating structural abnormalities or chronic sinusitis with surgery.
  • Treating GERD with antacid medications, by avoiding food late at night and by elevating your upper body when sleeping.

Regardless of the root cause the following treatments can be useful in treating abnormally thick mucous that accumulates in the back of the throat:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Sleep with a cool mist humidifier next to your bed.
  • Try irrigating the nasal passageways using a neti pot.
  • Avoid caffeine and diuretic medications.
  • Use saline nasal spray (available over-the-counter) several times a day.
  • You may wish to try an over-the-counter medication such as guafenesin. Consult your doctor or pharmacist before trying any new medication.

For abnormally thin secretions the following treatments may be helpful:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid spicy foods.
  • Consider using an over-the-counter decongestant such as pseudoephedrine or oxymetazoline nasal spray. To avoid rebound congestion, steroid decongestants should not be used longer than 3 days unless recommended by a doctor. Consult your doctor or pharmacist before trying new medications.
  • Avoid cold temperatures.


American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. Post Nasal Drip. Accessed: February 23, 2015 from http://www.entnet.org/content/post-nasal-drip

ENT and Allergy Associates. Reflux. Accessed: February 23, 2015 from http://www.entandallergy.com/service/vas/reflux

Medline Plus. Stuffy or runny nose - children. Accessed: February 23, 2015 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003051.htm

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