- Home remedies for post nasal drip include proper hydration and sleeping on propped pillows.
- Post nasal drip can also be treated with OTC medications like decongestants like Afrin and Mucinex.
- If you have post nasal drip that lasts longer than a week with no sign of clearing up, see a doctor.
During cold and flu season people experience a myriad of annoying symptoms. Chief among them is post nasal drip — when mucus from your nose runs into your throat.
Post nasal drip can trigger a tickling or blocked feeling at the back of your throat, causing a sore throat, cough, or the continuous need to clear your throat.
It’s normal for your nose to produce mucus — about one quart a day on average, says Christopher Thompson, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist and otolaryngologist with Mission Hospital.
“Mucus is important to humidify the upper airways and trap foreign particles such as allergens, irritants, viruses, and bacteria,” he says.
However, infection, allergies, and gastrointestinal reflux can all cause the mucus to become more pronounced, leading to post nasal drip. Learn more about this uncomfortable symptom and the various remedies to treat it.
What causes post nasal drip?
Post nasal drip occurs when nasal glands either secrete more mucus than normal, or thicker mucus. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including the following:
- A common cold: A common cold causes excess mucus to fill your nose, which often leads to post nasal drip.
- Allergies and irritants in the air: Allergens and other irritants can cause more mucus in your nose, which is linked to postnasal drip.
- Reflux: Post nasal drip is a major symptom of laryngopharyngeal reflux, a condition where stomach acid rises into the throat, Thompson says.
- Sinus infections: Runny and stuffy noses are common symptoms of a sinus infection and can cause post nasal drip.
- Pregnancy: During pregnancy, the increase in hormones can trigger swelling of the nasal glands, causing roughly one-third of women to experience post nasal drip.
- Spicy foods: In response to spiciness, many people’s bodies release extra mucus, which can lead to post nasal drip.
Post nasal drip treatment
The treatment for your post nasal drip will depend on what’s causing it. For example, it’s easier to resolve postnasal drip caused by spicy foods than it is to kick a sinus infection. It’s important to address the underlying condition in order to treat post nasal drip.
In addition to treating the cause, some remedies can help specifically with post nasal drip, Thompson says. Here are a few common remedies:
1. Try nasal irrigation
Nasal irrigation with saline is highly recommended to combat post nasal drip. “Saline irrigations help flush out excess and thick mucus,” Thompson says. “Also, saline irrigations moisturize the nasal cavity and reduce the symptom of post nasal drip.”
Using a neti pot, flush one side of your nose, then the other, with distilled or boiled water (that’s been cooled). Be sure to follow instructions carefully so that you don’t increase your risk of infection by flushing your nose.
2. Breathe in steam or a humidifier
Steam or a humidifier can help clear mucus from your nose. “Humidifier and steam inhalation can help moisturize the air and thin the mucus so that it passes more freely,” Thompson says.
That’s why chicken soup or a cup of tea can also be great remedies — the hot liquid and steam help clear your nasal passages.
People with post nasal drip related to allergies might want to skip this solution. “Humidifiers can increase indoor allergens, such as dust mites and mold,” Thompson says. “Many people are allergic to dust mites, so a humidifier may lead to increased allergy symptoms.”
3. Stay hydrated
Drinking enough water can help thin mucus, preventing the irritating postnasal drip feeling that something is stuck at the back of your throat.
“Drinking plenty of water can help thin out the mucus by preventing dehydration,” Thompson says. Aim for at least the recommended 15 cups a day for men and 11 cups a day for women.
4. Sleep on propped up pillows
Sleeping with your head raised on propped up pillows is particularly helpful if your postnasal drip is linked to reflux, Thompson says. Keeping your head raised can reduce the amount of stomach acid that gets into your throat, and lessen the feeling of post nasal drip.
5. Take oral decongestants
If your post nasal drip is also accompanied by congestion — as is often the case for people with a common cold — a decongestant like Sudafed can help, Thompson says. These medications work by constricting the blood vessels in the nose. That allows mucus to move more freely, he says.
However, oral decongestants also cause blood vessels to constrict throughout the body, so they shouldn’t be used by people who have high blood pressure, since they can make the condition worse.
Mucus thinners, like Mucinex, help thin the mucus in the upper respiratory system, Thompson explains. However, they are not considered effective at clearing nasal congestion.
6. Use nasal decongestants
Nasal decongestants, like Afrin, are sprays that constrict the blood vessels just in the nose. However, they shouldn’t be used for more than three days at a time, Thompson says, because they can cause rebound congestion, where mucus builds up when the medication wears off.
“This can lead to worsened congestion, post nasal drip, and nasal obstruction,” he says.
7. Consider prescription medications
If your post nasal drip is caused by allergies, a prescription nasal spray is a first-line treatment, Thompson says. Corticosteroid nasal sprays and nasal antihistamine sprays both decrease inflammation and reduce allergic response. With less mucus in your nose, you’ll have less post nasal drip.
When to see a doctor
If you have a persistent post nasal drip, a doctor can help you identify the cause of the condition and treat it.
If you have tried over-the-counter and home remedies for a few days without improvement or you have post nasal drip that lasts longer than a week, you should seek medical attention, Thompson says.
Likewise, you should see a doctor if you have a fever since that can indicate an infection.
“If post nasal drip is accompanied by facial pain or pressure and loss of smell then you may have a sinus infection requiring antibiotics. If you have indigestion or heartburn then you may have acid reflux.
If you have itchy eyes and nose then you may have seasonal allergies,” he says.
Post nasal drip is a symptom of conditions ranging from the common cold to allergies, to gastrointestinal reflux.
If you are suddenly experiencing post nasal drip, at-home remedies like proper hydration, sleeping on propped up pillows, and using a neti pot can all help.
If you have persistent post nasal drip you might have an underlying medical condition — like allergies or reflux — that needs independent management.