What Is Post-nasal Drip?

Post-nasal drip is what occurs when extra mucus drains from the back of the nose down the back of your throat. The drip of mucus can be uncomfortable, causing a cough or sore throat. Fortunately, there are a number of diagnostic and treatment options that can help relieve this symptom

Post-nasal Drip Symptoms

The most obvious sign of post-nasal drip is the feeling of mucus gathering in your throat or draining from the back of your nose along the back of your throat. In addition, you might experience symptoms like:

  • A sore, irritated throat
  • A cough
  • Frequent swallowing
  • Throat clearing
  • Raspy or gurgling speech
  • Swollen tonsils that make it feel like you have a lump in your throat

Depending on the underlying cause of your post-nasal drip, these symptoms can come and go throughout the day or consistently stick around. Your irritated throat and accompanying symptoms may also feel worse after you've been lying down or talking for a longer period of time.

Photo Composite Post-nasal Drip

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What Causes Post-nasal Drip?

Post-nasal drip tends to happen when your body is fighting off an infection or experiencing another health condition that causes mucus production to ramp up. Several short-term, sudden, or long-lasting factors can cause this to happen.

Conditions and factors that can cause increased mucus production and, in turn, post-nasal drip include:

  • Viral infections, such as the flu or common cold
  • Bacterial infections
  • Allergies
  • Overly sensitive nose (vasomotor rhinitis)
  • Pregnancy rhinitis (stuffy nose)
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Structural abnormalities in the nose, like a deviated septum

Factors that can trigger more mucus and cause post-nasal drip include:

  • Use of certain medications, such as birth control pills or blood pressure drugs
  • Cold temperature
  • Bright lights
  • The consumption of spicy foods
  • Spaces that are heated and dry

How long post-nasal drip lasts will depend on the underlying cause. If it's related to a common cold, for example, you might expect your post-nasal drip to resolve in about a week. A longer-term issue, like allergies, may involve ongoing post-nasal drip symptoms until treatment is under control.

How Is Post-nasal Drip Diagnosed?

Typically, post-nasal drip can be diagnosed after a healthcare provider reviews your symptoms and performs a physical exam. This usually involves asking questions about other symptoms that could indicate sign of an infection and inspecting the back of your throat for any swelling, redness, or phlegm.

From there, the healthcare provider may determine that additional testing is needed to help pinpoint the post-nasal drip trigger, including:

  • Allergy testing to evaluate whether the post-nasal drip might be related to an allergen (like pollen) or food sensitivity
  • Imaging (X-ray, MRI, or CT scan) to help discern if there may be a structural issue with the anatomy of your sinuses, like a deviated septum
  • Interventional tests using a scope to examine the upper throat, check for acid reflux, or look at the digestive tract lining if GERD is suspected

Treatments for Post-nasal Drip

Treatment for post-nasal drip depends on what is causing the symptom in the first place. The key to improving the excess mucus drainage is to address the mucus itself.

Home Remedies

If your post-nasal drip is due to a short-term cause, like a common cold or other virus, your healthcare provider may recommend finding relief with home remedies like:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Using a humidifier while sleeping
  • Flushing out your nasal passages with a nasal irrigation kit
  • Using a vaporizer with congestion-clearing essential oils
  • Keeping your living area vacuumed and dusted
  • Gargling with saltwater

OTC Medications

The familiar scratchy throat and other post-nasal drip symptoms can typically be managed with a over-the-counter (OTC) products, like:

  • Pain relievers and cough drops for a sore throat
  • Antihistamines for allergy symptoms
  • Decongestants to reduce swelling
  • Saline or glucocorticoids nasal spray

Prescription Medications

Severe or chronic cases of post-nasal drip might require prescription medications, such as:

  • Steroids for asthma-related cases
  • Antibiotics for a bacterial infection
  • Antifungals for a fungal respiratory infection
  • Acid-reducing medications for a condition like GERD


A structural issue with the sinuses may need one of the following surgical treatment procedures:

  • Sinus surgery, to open blocked sinuses in the case of chronic sinus infection
  • Submucosal resection of the septum, performed to remove extra tissue from the nose 
  • Septoplasty, performed to straighten a deviated septum

How to Prevent Post-nasal Drip

Post-nasal drip is common and not usually a cause for concern, but it can still be irritating.

To help prevent post-nasal drip, you'll want to treat what's causing it in the first place. You can start this by following home and OTC remedies to keep your airways moisturized and mucus drained. You can also try avoiding the initial cause of the extra mucus formation, such as by practicing good hand hygiene to avoid catching the common cold.

When to Visit a Healthcare Provider

While many cases of post-nasal drip will go away on their own within a relatively short period of time, keep an eye on whether your symptoms are actually getting better. If you notice they're worsening or that you still have a runny nose or congestion after three weeks, it's probably a good idea to check with a healthcare provider. You should also seek medical advice if your congestion or runny nose is accompanied by a fever.

If you notice that your child has discharge coming from only one nostril and the discharge smells bad, you should check with a healthcare provider that no object is stuck up their nose.

A Quick Review

Post-nasal drip can happen when you have a build-up of extra mucus. The mucus can drain from the back of your nose into the back of your throat. The drip can irritate your throat, causing you to cough, clear your throat, or swallow more. Conditions like bacterial infections and GERD and environmental factors like cold temperatures and spicy foods can cause an increase or thickening in mucus which can lead to post-nasal drip. Treating post-nasal drip includes addressing the underlying cause. In the meantime, you can manage the symptom with at-home remedies and medication. In some cases, surgery might be the best option.

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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