How To Get Rid of Post-Nasal Drip

Put a stop to your constant coughing and sore throat—and even that icky dripping feeling.

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Glands in your nose and throat continuously make mucus—normally up to one or two quarts a day. All this mucus keeps membranes in your body moist and helps to fight infection. The mucus also traps what is inhaled. Most of the time, you don't notice the flow; you usually swallow mucus produced in your nose and sinuses without thinking about it.

But other times, like when you're sick, mucus production ramps up. In those cases, it's hard to ignore the runny nose or the feeling of the mucus trickling down the back of your throat, otherwise known as post-nasal drip—and the resulting sore or irritated throat.

If your post-nasal drip symptoms don't go away, you may need to see a healthcare provider. However, there are many post-nasal drip remedies to try before you reach that point.

What Is Post-Nasal Drip, Exactly?

"Post-nasal drip or draining is a normal physiological process," explained Gavin Setzen, MD, founding partner of Albany ENT & Allergy Services. "Most of the time you're not really aware of it, but when there are other aggravating circumstances—if it's thicker than normal or if there's volume of production—you become more aware of the mucus."

What Causes Post-Nasal Drip?

Post-nasal drip can have multiple causes. Bacterial infections, gastroesophageal reflux, vasomotor rhinitis (an overly sensitive nose), medications that thicken mucus, and age can all bring on post-nasal drip.

"Aggravating circumstances," like Dr. Setzen mentioned, could include a cold, the flu, allergies, pregnancy, changes in hormones, or even cold temperatures, bright lights, or certain foods and spices. These causes often give you thin and clear mucus. Some birth control pills and high blood pressure medications can also increase the amount of mucus your nose makes.

Thicker secretions usually have a different cause. Mucus can become more viscous from dry air in heated spaces, nose infections, and allergies, including to certain foods and dairy products.

Getting Rid of Post-Nasal Drip

Treatment for post-nasal drip varies depending on what is causing the problem. However, some treatments work for multiple causes.

Rinse Your Sinuses

Rinsing your nasal cavity is the simplest and, for many folks, one of the most effective remedies for post-nasal drip. It's especially effective if you think your symptoms are from allergies or pollution. It can also help if you have a bacterial infection or thickened secretions.

A rinse with a squirt bottle or a Neti pot works by washing irritants or allergens out of your nasal passages, Alice Hoyt, MD, founder of the Hoyt Institute of Food Allergy in Metairie, Louisiana, told Health. "It's ridding your body of that extra junk that is triggering the process of mucus production."

You can buy prepackaged saline solution or mix it up yourself—but if you make your own, use only distilled water, filtered tap water, or boiled water (after it has cooled), Lisa Liberatore, MD, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist at Totem ENT and Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told Health. Otherwise, you risk infection.

Get Steamy

Steam is another simple, effective way to loosen and clear mucus from the back of your throat and ease post-nasal drip. While a humidifier will moisten the whole room, Dr. Liberatore recommended a hot shower to enhance the results.

"It's better to do something directly to your nose than to humidify the air in general because it can increase mold issues," said Dr. Liberatore. "You can also put a couple of drops of eucalyptus oil on the shower floor to help clear nasal passageways."

Other options: Fill a sink or bowl with hot water (with or without a couple of drops of eucalyptus oil), put a towel over your head, and inhale.

If you do use a humidifier, make sure you clean it regularly.

Guard Against Allergens

Post-nasal drip is commonly caused by allergies. You'll often be able to tell if it's allergies if one of your symptoms is itchiness. "The allergy cells responsible for allergy symptoms release histamine, which is a very itchy compound," explained Dr. Hoyt.

Once you know your post-nasal drip is allergy-related, take measures to limit your exposure. "Tighten up allergy-control measures using dust-mite covers and HEPA filters," said Dr. Setzen, who is also an associate clinical professor of otolaryngology at Albany Medical Center.

Other strategies include washing sheets frequently in hot water, dusting, removing clutter that collects dust, keeping outdoor pets outside and indoor pets inside, and removing carpets if possible.

Stay Hydrated

Having enough fluid in your body can help prevent your mucus from having post-nasal drip with thick mucus. To thin thick secretions, older people, especially, may need to drink more water, cut back on caffeine, and, when possible avoid medications and other substances that remove fluid from the body.

Cut Back on Dairy Products

Many people with post-nasal drip swear that giving up or at least cutting back on dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese reduces mucus production and eases their symptoms. No studies have proven definitively that the strategy is helpful, but personal stories abound.

"I don't think it's [just] an old wives' tale," said Dr. Liberatore. "There's not great data, but patients have shared with me how much better they feel when they eliminate dairy."

Research suggests that while dairy may not be associated with increased mucus production, it can make the saliva thicker and more viscous. Thicker mucus may make people more aware of their secretions, even though they are not actually making more mucus.

Consider Over-the-Counter Meds

Several widely available drugs directly treat post-nasal drip and sore throat.

Many people start with mucus-thinning products like guaifenesin (Mucinex) and dextromethorphan (Robitussin). "Sometimes that helps relieve the irritation in the throat when the mucus is thick," said Dr. Liberatore.

Flonase is a nasal spray that can reduce post-nasal drip related to allergies and thickened secretions. Two squirts in each nostril once a day is usually enough, said Dr. Liberatore. Antihistamines and decongestants can also help relieve post-nasal drip caused by bacterial infections and allergies.

Read ingredient labels, as many over-the-counter cold medications include painkillers like acetaminophen (Tylenol). Taking too much, warned Dr. Hoyt, could lead to liver problems.

When To See a Healthcare Provider for Post-Nasal Drip

You should see a healthcare provider if your post-nasal drip lasts three weeks or more or is accompanied by a fever.

Green, yellow, or bloody mucus also warrants a trip to your healthcare provider. You could have a bacterial infection, a structural problem with your nose like a deviated septum, or nasal polyps.

Antibiotics will usually take care of bacterial infections, while a deviated septum and polyps can both be corrected with surgery. Allergy shots and oral steroids may also help with allergy-related post-nasal drip.

If gastroesophageal reflux—as in frequent acid reflux two or more times a week—may be causing post-nasal drip, you'll also want to talk to a healthcare provider. At home, you may try sleeping with your head elevated, avoiding food and drinks for at least three hours before bedtime, maintaining a healthy weight, and cutting out alcohol and caffeine to reduce post-nasal drip. Antacids and acid blockers may also provide relief.

"Even though [post-nasal drip] sounds like it's not a life-or-death problem, it really does interfere with people's quality of life," said Dr. Liberatore, so go get checked out if symptoms don't subside. "Come see an ENT doctor. We have the tools to see what's going on inside the nose and throat."

A Quick Review

Home remedies may be worth a try for extra mucus running down the back of your throat. Rinses and steam treatments can provide immediate relief for your symptoms. When caused by allergies, post-nasal drip can be mitigated by avoiding allergy triggers. Eliminating dairy can help thin thick mucus that's causing post-nasal drip.

Over-the-counter medications may also clear it up. See a healthcare provider if you have post-nasal drip that lasts three weeks or more, a fever as an additional symptom, or mucus that is yellowish, greenish, or bloody.

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  2. Balfour-Lynn IM. Milk, mucus and myths. Arch Dis Child. 2019;104(1):91-93. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2018-314896

  3. National Institutes of Health. Marvels of mucus and phlegm: The slime that keeps you healthy.

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