Glands in your nose and throat continually produce mucus, normally one to two quarts per day. Mucus moistens and cleans the nasal lining, moistens air, traps and clears what is inhaled, and helps fight infection. Mucus is normally swallowed unconsciously, but when there is a feeling of the mucus gathering in the throat or dripping from the back of your nose, it is called post-nasal drip.
Symptoms of post-nasal drip can include:
In children, thick or foul-smelling secretions from one side of the nose can mean that something is stuck in the nose such as a bean, wadded paper, or a piece of a toy. If these symptoms are observed, seek a physician for examination.
Post-nasal drip often leads to a sore, irritated throat. Although there is usually no infection, the tonsils and other tissues in the throat may swell. This can cause discomfort or a feeling that there is a lump in the throat. Successful treatment of the post-nasal drip will usually clear up these throat symptoms.
Causes of post-nasal drip can include:
Thin clear secretions can be due to colds and flu, allergies, cold temperatures, bright lights, certain foods or spices, pregnancy, and other hormonal changes. Various drugs (including birth control pills and high blood pressure medications) and irregular nose cartilage can also produce increased mucus.
Thick secretions in winter often result from dryness in heated spaces. They can also come from sinus or nose infections and allergies, especially to foods such as dairy products. If thin secretions become thick and turn green or yellow, it is possible that a bacterial sinus infection is developing.
Diagnosing post-nasal drip may include a detailed ear, nose, and throat exam, endoscopy (using a camera to look inside the nose and throat), or X-rays. Post-nasal drip can be difficult to cure, and treatment varies according to the cause:
Several other conditions may feel like post-nasal drip but are swallowing problems caused by a backup of solids or liquids in the throat. Conditions that may be related to post-nasal drip include:
Copyright 2021. American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation. Last reviewed April 2020.
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