What Is Post Nasal Drip?

Post nasal drip can make you feel awful. Glow Wellness/Getty Images

You know that yucky annoying stuff in the back of your throat when you have a cold? That's post nasal drip. Not a very scientific way to explain it, but you probably know what it is now. 

Technically, post nasal drip is mucus that is draining from your sinuses or nose down the back of your throat into your stomach. It has to have somewhere to go, so it's actually a good thing for it to drain when you are sick.

Better to drain into your stomach than staying in your sinuses and getting infected. 

What You Can Do

Although it is good for the mucus to drain, sometimes it can get thick and makes it difficult to swallow. There are actually several things you can do to thin the mucus so it will drain better. 

  • Drink More Water - extra fluids moisten your mucous membranes and loosen the mucus so it drains
  • Avoid Caffeine and Diuretics (medications that increase urination)
  • Try over the counter Expectorants (such as Mucinex, Robitussin, guiafenisen) - these help thin secretions
  • Rinse Your Sinuses - using a neti pot or other method of sinus irrigation can rinse out the secretions and thin the mucus that is left, allowing it to drain more easily
  • Use Saline Spray - if you can't or don't want to rinse your sinuses, using an over the counter, non-medicated saline spray may help
  • Run a Humidifier - extra moisture in the air, especially while you are sleeping, will help keep the mucus thin and it keeps your airway moist so you can breathe more comfortably
  • For allergy related post nasal drip, try antihistamines or other allergy medications

Post nasal drip can cause a sore throat due to irritation from mucus draining constantly. If you have a sore throat, this may help:

When To Seek Medical Attention

Post nasal drip is not a medical emergency.

However, mucus that should be draining can thicken or the openings from the sinuses can become so swollen that the mucus can't drain out. These can lead to sinus infections which can be very uncomfortable and may require a visit to the doctor. 

Sinus infections occur when there is a lot of mucus in the sinus cavities that gets infected with bacteria. They may need to be treated with antibiotics. If you feel a lot of pain and pressure in your face around your nose and eyes, you may have a sinus infection. This pain often worsens when you lean your head forward. 

If you are concerned you may have a sinus infection or if your symptoms do not improve after 10 days, contact your health care provider. 

Sources:

"Post-Nasal Drip". American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. 21 May 15.

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