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 are continuously making 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 (hence, boogers). Most of the time you don't even notice the flow; you usually swallow mucus produced in your nose and sinuses without even 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.

"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."

Those "aggravating circumstances" could include a cold, the flu, allergies, or even changes in temperature, dehydration, or eating spicy foods.

If your post-nasal drip symptoms don't go away, you may need to see a doctor. But there are many post-nasal drip remedies to try before reaching that point. Here's where to start.

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. A rinse with a squirt bottle or a Neti pot works by washing irritants or allergens out of your nasal passages, said Alice Hoyt, MD, founder of the Hoyt Institute of Food Allergy in Metairie, Louisiana. "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), advised Lisa Liberatore, MD, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist at Totem ENT and Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. 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 (we love the Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier), 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," added Dr. Liberatore.

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, getting rid of clutter that collects dust, keeping outdoor pets out and indoor pets in, and removing carpets if possible.

Cut Back on Dairy Products

Many people suffering from 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."

A 2018 literature review published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood suggested that while studies do not seem to associate dairy with increased mucus production, a couple studies have suggested that what people think is an increase in mucus production after eating dairy is actually the result of the dairy making the saliva thicker and more viscous (thus, being confused as an increase in mucus).

Consider Over-the-Counter Meds

There is a slew of widely available drugs to treat post-nasal drip and sore throat directly.

Many people start with mucus-thinning products like Mucinex and 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. Two squirts in each nostril once a day is usually enough, said Dr. Liberatore. Antihistamines and decongestants can also help relieve post-nasal drip.

Take care to read ingredient labels, as many over-the-counter cold medications include painkillers like acetaminophen. Taking too much, warned Dr. Hoyt, could lead to liver problems.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider for Post-Nasal Drip

You should see your healthcare provider if your post-nasal drip lasts three weeks or more or is accompanied by a fever, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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.

"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."

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  1. American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Post-nasal drip.

  2. Balfour-Lynn IM. Milk, mucus and myths. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 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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