Mucus plays a vital role in maintaining good health. Glands in the nose and throat produce up to two quarts of mucus each day. Mucus is responsible for moistening and cleaning nasal tissue. It also acts as a humidifier, captures foreign matter, and combats infections. Normally, mucus is swallowed without being noticed, however, it becomes a problem when it evolves into post-nasal drip. This can occur for several reasons, explained below. The basic problem is excessive mucus gathers in the throat and nose and it then flows into a person's airway, collecting in the lungs. It may also drip into the stomach, causing intermittent nausea.
Common cold, flu or sinusitis: Congested sinuses swell in response to viruses or bacterial infections that invade healthy tissues, producing an inflammatory response. Thick mucus is evident when a bacterial sinus infection develops. A nagging cough expels more mucus into the upper throat and mouth, thereby causing post-nasal drip.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): This chronic condition can prevent proper mucus absorption, thereby causing excessive thickened mucus in the back of the throat.
Allergies: Seasonal and food allergies, especially dairy products, can cause thickened secretions.
Environmental irritants: Fumes from chemicals, perfumes, cleaning products, tobacco, or other irritants can aggravate the sinuses and lead to post-nasal drip.
Weather: Winter and dry air can contribute to post-nasal drip because nasal passages do not react well to heated air.
Swallowing disorders: As people get older, swallowing can be more difficult because muscles are weaker and coordination is compromised. Health issues impacting swallowing can result in accumulated solids or liquids in the throat. Nerves and muscles controlling the mouth, throat, and esophagus may stop working adequately because overflow discharges can interrupt functioning. Throat muscles can become spasmodic if nerves and stress hit overload levels.
Birth control pills or pregnancy: Increased levels of estrogen may increase post-nasal drip.
Nasal polyps: Occasionally, people suffering from chronic sinusitis and continuous post-nasal drip have polyps in their nose. An otolaryngologist examines the inside of the nose using a fiber optic scope to detect polyps or any other issues. If medication fails to relieve symptoms, surgery is often recommended to avoid recurrent or more serious problems.
Deviated septum: This occurs when the bone and cartilage dividing the nasal cavity of the nose in half is significantly off center or crooked. Nasal congestion and post-nasal drip are common symptoms. In some cases, medications can alleviate these symptoms, otherwise surgery is required.
Coughing: This is one of the most common and uncomfortable post-nasal drip symptoms. People with post-nasal drip tend to start out with a mild cough commonly attributed to allergies or irritation. The cough can become severe and may even be painful. Coughing associated with post-nasal drip tends to be persistent and is often accompanied by wheezing. These symptoms tend to persist until the post-nasal drip is treated.
Constant Swallowing: Excessive mucus in the nasal drip can lead to an irritated and dry throat, causing the need to swallow more frequently than normal. This may also cause a feeling of fullness in the stomach and bad breath.
Rhinorrhea: A runny nose is very common in people who have post-nasal drip due to mucus flow. Some people snort to clear the mucus from the back of the nostrils when blowing the nose doesn’t dislodge it. Most people prefer to spit out this mucus rather than swallowing any of it.
Throat Clearing: Overflow secretions can spill into the voice box (larynx) and breathing passages (trachea and bronchi). This results in frequently needing to clear the throat, which can cause a cracking or hoarse voice. The frequent clearing of the throat and coughing can also lead to a burning sensation or sore throat.
Difficulty Breathing: All of the mucus buildup in the nose can make breathing through the nose very difficult. Moreover, coughing associated with post-nasal drip can make breathing through the mouth difficult.
Congestion: Nasal and sinus congestion are classic signs of both allergies and post-nasal drip, with excess mucus clogging the nose and sinuses. A post-nasal drip can also be caused by sinusitis, in which case, the sinuses are already congested and have a buildup of mucus and bacteria.
Halitosis (Bad Breath): TheraBreath clinical research has proven post-nasal drip increases the intensity of halitosis. While post-nasal drip fluid itself may be odorless, it contributes to oral odor in a predictable and preventable way. Mucus is a rich source of food for anaerobic bacteria residing in the back of the throat. The stagnation of mucus allows the bad-breath bacteria to use it as a sort of shelter from the saliva and oxygen existing in the mouth. The microbes convert the food source into pungent waste, which is the source of the resultant oral odor.
Additionally, the tongue is coated with tiny "feelers" called papillae that also contain the taste buds. If the tongue is not regularly and thoroughly brushed or rinsed with water or an antiseptic mouthwash, anaerobes nestle in between these papillae and feed on protein in the form of food particles and mucus. As a result, individuals with chronic post-nasal drip experience halitosis caused by anaerobes and bacteria living on the tongue's surface in the back of the throat.
Xerostomia (The Subjective sensation of a Dry Mouth): Swelled nasal passages often accompany chronic post-nasal drip, forcing those affected to breathe through their mouths. This severely reduces the amount of saliva and causes dry mouth, which further promotes the proliferation of anaerobic bacteria. Dry mouth is also a common side effect of antihistamines, a widely used post-nasal drip treatment.
Sore Throat: Coughing, snorting, and constantly clearing the throat to expel excess mucus often results in a chronic sore throat.
Ear Pain: Excess mucus can block the Eustachian tube between the nose and ear. When left untreated, this can lead to a serious ear infection and pain.
Tonsil Stones: When the mucus from post-nasal drip accumulates and mixes with anaerobic sulfur-producing bacteria in tonsil crevices, small, odorous formations called tonsil stones begin to form.
Normal mucus is a thin clear fluid that increases in volume when the body senses a problem. Drinking plenty of fluids, keeping the air humidified, and using saline nasal sprays are ways to maintain healthy mucus levels. A common misconception is that green or yellow nasal fluids indicate a bacterial infection and antibiotics are needed. Colds and flu very often have clear nasal discharges for several days. The discharges can eventually become creamy yellow or green.
Although home remedies can be effective, it is important to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment if symptoms don’t diminish. This may include an examination of the ears, nose, and throat. Your medical history may help determine what is impacting your mucus secretions. The doctor will check for blood in the mucus and determine if this is related to a sore throat. Depending on what the physical exam uncovers, your doctor may order a CT scan of the head or x-rays of the skull and sinuses. If an underlying cause is not found, the primary goal of treatment is to help the mucus drain more effectively.
The following tips can help prevent allergy flare ups and associated post-nasal drip.
Carefully examine the claims of any post-nasal drip remedy you select. Consult with your doctor to determine the correct type and amount of any medicine used to treat post-nasal drip. Mucus-thinning drugs can relieve thickened fluids. Over-the-counter saline nasal sprays help keep nasal tissues moistened. While antihistamines may help prevent post-nasal drip, they come with the side effects of dry mouth, bad breath, and possible dependence.
TheraBreath PLUS Nasal-Sinus Drops: These drop provide a fresh breath sensation many people have not experienced in years. The spray targets the area where sulfur compounds accumulate as a result of the interaction between excess mucus and bacteria.
HydroPulse® Nasal Sinus Irrigation System: Chronic sinus problems can be relieved by regular use of the Hydropulse. Nasal irrigation is probably the most effective method for attacking post-nasal drip and helping to control sinus infections. This device flushes the sinuses and works even better by adding 2-3 drops of AktivOxigen serum into each treatment.
AktivOxigen Serum: This is a highly concentrated, unflavored oxygenating serum that can easily be mixed with water or fruit juice to produce a powerful, antibacterial oral rinse solution. It is highly effective at eliminating bad breath and dry mouth.
TheraBreath Fresh Breath Throat Spray: With its patented 6.9 centimeter nozzle, this spray is capable of reaching the farthest anterior areas of the throat. The “extinguisher” spray combats the hard-to-reach areas where post-nasal drip tends to accumulate.
TheraBreathTonsil Stones Treatment Kit: This all-in-one kit has everything you need to help prevent offensive, foul-smelling stones from forming. It includes throat spray, nasal-sinus drops, mouth wetting lozenges, and AktivOxigen Serum containing OXYD-8®, a highly effective compound created by TheraBreath founder Dr. Harold Katz.
Treating post-nasal drip promptly can help prevent many issues including bad breath, dry mouth, sore throat, chronic sinusitis, tonsil stones, and more serious problems.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.