Put simply, postnasal drip happens when our mucous membranes get a little wonky. Our mucous membranes can produce as much as two quarts of mucus in a day. Most of this drips down the back of our throats without so much as a tickle. It’s only when that mucus deviates in viscosity that we notice something is amiss. The biological response to just about any irritation in our respiratory or digestive tracts is to produce more mucus, and rightly so. Mucus contains antiseptic enzymes and has sticky lubricating properties which can coat sensitive areas and prevent further injuries; it can, however, get a little overwhelming…nonstop phlegm in the back of your throat is pretty nasty.
Postnasal drip can lead to coughing, sore throats, and is thought to be a contributing factor in halitosis. It is rarely a condition suffered on its own. It is usually paired with something like a sinus infection or a case of seasonal allergies. That means that the treatment of one requires a treatment of both. Determining what brought it on in the first place is going to be an important first step in getting rid of it, as it will decide what the next course of action will be. Whatever the case, if your postnasal drip lasts more than a few weeks and doesn’t respond to the steps laid out here, a trip to the doctor is in order. They’ll be able to find the source and help you tackle it.
Mucus: You Couldn’t Live Without It
We don’t think about it until it becomes a problem, but our bodies are swimming in a river of mucus all the time. This mucus protects epithelial cells in our respiratory, urogenital, sensory, and gastrointestinal systems. Its antiseptic properties are the first line of defense against viruses, bacterium, and fungi which seek to gain entrance into our bodies when we breathe. It also filters out dust and other air particulates, which you don’t want in your lungs. If you’ve ever touched mucus, you would know that it is also a great lubricant, and that is what it is used for in most of the body. It keeps our digestive/waste systems moving, our eyes in motion, and helps deliver sperm to ovum in a woman’s reproductive tract—the very essence of life itself.
Best Ways to Get Rid of Postnasal Drip
Allergies are very commonly associated with postnasal drip. If you have a problem with an irritation of the nasal passages (rhinitis) caused by seasonal allergies, then you have probably suffered the discomfort of postnasal drip as well. There is no cure for seasonal allergies (short of living in a space-suit), but there are some good methods for treating and preventing seasonal allergy symptoms. Antihistamines can help to reduce the inflammatory reaction to environmental allergens. Decongestants will thin out the discharge and also reduce swelling, which help you clear out excessive mucus. In severe cases, nasal steroids or nasal cromolyn might be prescribed by a doctor.
Treating the symptoms is your best option with postnasal drip caused by a viral infection. Vaccines, such as the yearly flu-shot can offer some protection, but upper-respiratory viruses like influenza and rhinovirus (the common cold) don’t have a cure. The good news is that viruses of this sort normally run their course in a week or two, although they often end up causing secondary infections in your sinuses. If you’ve recently had the flu or a cold, that is probably what is causing the postnasal drip you are experiencing now. Treating the symptoms is your best bet. Look into sinus-specific nasal decongestants, anti-inflammatory analgesic drugs, and the natural alternatives further down. You can get Sudafed at Amazon.
Bacterial infections are another possible cause for postnasal drip. Bacteria are opportunists. Areas like our nasal passages and our sinuses always have bacteria in them. But when our immune system is compromised by a viral infection or some other weakening condition, those bacteria can grow out of control, wreaking havoc with our mucous glands. If left untreated, these infections can go on for months, causing headaches and, of course, postnasal drip. The solution is simple, assuming your doctor figures it out: you need antibiotics. In the mean time, medications and techniques that relieve symptoms of any infection in the area, such as decongestants and anti-inflammatory analgesics, will help make it more tolerable.
Acid reflux irritates the back of the throat which can lead to postnasal drip. Acid reflux is beyond indigestion and heartburn. It is literally your stomach’s digestive fluid and contents (vomit) traveling the wrong way up into your esophagus, bronchia, throat, and even your mouth while you are sleeping. It is a horrible problem sometimes caused by a faulty valve in your stomach, which allows things to escape back up the chute when you are in a horizontal position, but it is just as often related to late night overeating. Antacids (such as Tums) and acid reducers (Prilosec) are options, but lifestyle changes, such as not eating or drinking for a couple hours before bed and sleeping in an inclined position, will usually solve the problem.
Hormonal changes in women have an affect on the level of postnasal drip. During pregnancy, a large amount of estrogen is produced in the body of a woman. This increase in hormone levels is thought to cause an irritation in the nasal passages in as many as 30 percent of all pregnancies. It is generally worse in the first trimester, but may last the whole nine months. Ironically, birth-control pills can have the same side effect, as they cause a fluctuation in estrogen production as well. Pregnancy adds some complications to treating postnasal drip, as you don’t want to take medications without verifying their safety with your physician. Natural treatments and lifestyle changes may be your best option.
Best Natural Alternatives to Get Rid of Postnasal Drip
Besides being relaxing and soothing, taking a hot shower or a warm bath can help to thin out mucus in our nasal passages. Even just having a humidifier going in a room helps to keep things moving. Also remember to drink lots of liquids in order to stay hydrated when you are experiencing postnasal drip. A cuppa hot tea with honey can offer a some much needed relief.
Nasal irrigation sounds worse than it actually is: slowly pouring a couple of cups of warm, slightly saline water in one nostril and out the other. It takes some getting used to, but it can really help to loosen up the crud building up in your nasal passages and in the back of your throat. Don’t do it too much though, as it might start to cause some irritation of its own after a while. You can find neti pots for sale at Amazon.
Purposely inhaling tobacco smoke—a potentially deadly irritant—is guaranteed to cause problems at some point. You might as well just quit and get it over with. If you’re smoking while you are suffering from an upper respiratory infection (like a cold or postnasal drip), you are adding more fuel to the fire. You are prolonging your recovery time with every breath of smoke you take.
If it doesn't go away...
Postnasal drip is annoying, but it generally will go away if you follow the steps laid out here and wait a couple of weeks. However, if it doesn’t go away, or if it is accompanied by pain, bleeding, or a fowl, funky discharge, you should definitely get it checked out by your doctor. As mentioned above, bacterial sinusitis will require a course of antibiotics to make it go away. Other forms of chronic sinusitis could be environmental in origin, such as irritation from inhaled chemicals or smoke and, in people with suppressed immune systems, can even be caused by a fungal infection.
Another possibility is anatomical deformity such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps, which may require surgery to correct. Both definitely require a doctor to diagnose, and your physician might have some other advice as to what your options for treatment are.
Esophageal motility disorder is another medical condition which can lead to postnasal drip. It and other conditions like it cause an inability to swallow normally and is sometimes a result of food allergies. This lack of swallowing not only leads to a build up of mucus, but also to regurgitation and muscle spasms in the esophagus.