Post-Nasal Drip Treatments Based on 6 Causes

Allergies, Infections, Acid Reflux, and More

Post-nasal drip, also called upper airway cough syndrome (UACS), is a common disorder. It can be caused by colds, allergies, acid reflux, and other conditions.

It happens when the amount or quality of the mucus that's typically produced in the airways has changed and is now causing irritation. Treatment for post-nasal drip depends on the cause of the condition.

This article explains post-nasal drip and some common symptoms that occur. It looks at six possible causes of post-nasal drip and some ways your symptoms can be treated at home.

 Verywell / Julie Bang 

What Is Post-Nasal Drip?

Our bodies are constantly producing mucus, and not just in our airways. It's found in the digestive tract and other organs where glands produce mucin. Mucin is the substance that, along with water, makes up our mucus. In the airway, it traps germs and other debris to keep it out of the lungs.

Mucus drains down the back of our throats all the time. It usually doesn't bother us, and most of the time we aren't aware of it. Post-nasal drip occurs when abnormally thin or thick mucus becomes noticeable.

It causes the sensation of having a "drip" in the back of the throat, which also may come with the need to clear your throat often. You likely will also have a chronic cough.

When treating post-nasal drip at home, you may need to vary your approach depending on whether the mucus is thick or thin. Try the tips below, based on the cause of your symptoms.

Post-Nasal Drip Caused by Allergies

You may notice post-nasal drip during hay fever (allergic rhinitis) season. Here are ways to treat post-nasal drip caused by allergies:

  • Try an antihistamine, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Claritin (loratadine).
  • If you know what causes your allergies, avoid any of your allergy triggers at home.
  • If you do not know the cause, see an allergist or immunologist for a diagnosis and treatment.
  • If you suffer from pollen allergies, keep your windows closed during pollen season. Take a shower to remove pollen that may have landed on your clothes or in your hair.
  • Decongestants such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) can be used for adults, but don't use them for more than three days in a row. This will help you to avoid rebound congestion.
  • Newer nasal sprays, such as Nasonex (mometasone), are available by prescription. They can be used on a longer-term basis than many decongestants.

Post-Nasal Drip Caused by Infections

Post-nasal drip can be caused by infections. They include the common cold, RSV, influenza, and sinusitis. It's important to see a healthcare provider to rule out the need for antibiotics, but at home you can try:

  • Decongestants, including pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, and Afrin (oxymetazoline), but avoid using them for longer than three days
  • Drinking as much water or other fluids as possible
  • Using vapor rubs, cough drops, or other products containing menthol
  • Using humidifiers and nasal saline mists that can help to thin mucus

Post-Nasal Drip Caused by Acid Reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or acid reflux, can cause post-nasal drip. GERD occurs when stomach acid comes back up into the esophagus. GERD is worse when you lie down because gravity makes it easier for acid to "backwash" into the esophagus and back of the throat.

Stomach acid is very irritating to tissue outside of the stomach. This irritation is what causes the feeling of post-nasal drip. It can also cause a sore throat, laryngitis, and a persistent cough. If acid reflux persists, see a healthcare provider.

To treat post-nasal drip caused by GERD at home:

  • Try an over-the-counter antacid, such as Tums or Prilosec (omeprazole).
  • Don't eat before bedtime.
  • Avoid trigger foods, such as chocolate, fizzy drinks, or spicy foods.
  • Sleep in an elevated position instead of lying flat.

Post-Nasal Drip Caused by Medications

Some medications, such as birth control or blood pressure drugs, can cause post-nasal drip as a side effect. Many side effects will ease the longer that you take a medication. But it may be that the only way to avoid this side effect is by not taking the drug.

That said, you should first talk to a healthcare provider before you stop taking any medication. You also should speak to your provider or a pharmacist about possible drug interactions. Don't take any medications for post-nasal drip, even over-the-counter or alternative products, without letting them know.

At home, you can try:

  • Humidifiers
  • Saline mist
  • Neti pots
  • Avoiding dairy if mucus is thick
  • Avoiding spicy foods if mucus is thin
  • Drinking plenty of water

Treating Post-Nasal Drip Caused by Structural (Anatomical) Abnormalities

Post-nasal drip can be caused by your anatomy. Some people have structural abnormalities of the nose and sinuses. Symptoms typically last longer than a few weeks.

In this case, you should see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (otolaryngologist) to find out if you need corrective surgery. Typical surgeries may include:

Your specialist also can talk to you about ways to manage your post-nasal drip at home if you are unable or unwilling to have surgery, or until the procedure can be done.

Post-Nasal Drip Caused by Hormones

Changes in your body's hormone levels also may be a cause of post-nasal drip. If you are pregnant, do not take any drugs to treat post-nasal drip without talking to your healthcare provider. At home, a pregnant person can safely manage the symptoms with:

  • Humidifiers
  • Saline mist
  • Neti pots

If your hormonal changes are caused by menopause or another condition, you can use the home remedies discussed in this article. Do see your healthcare provider to talk about options such as hormone replacement therapy.

Summary

Post-nasal drip is when changes in the amount or quality of mucus you feel in your throat become noticeable. It's often caused by things like the common cold or allergies, and it may come with a cough or other symptoms. You won't always need to see a healthcare provider to manage it, and you can try some of the home remedies discussed here.

In some cases, though, the post-nasal drip may be a symptom associated with a more serious condition. GERD, or acid reflux, is one such example. A structural abnormality in your nose or a medication side effect also may cause symptoms. A healthcare provider can help you to find the cause of your post-nasal drip and get relief.

A Word From Verywell

Try not to be discouraged if you're dealing with post-nasal drip. It's often unpleasant, and so are the symptoms that come with each specific cause. Treating your symptoms at home can go a long way toward helping you to feel better.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can COVID-19 cause post-nasal drip?

    Yes. COVID can cause nasal congestion that results in mucus and post-nasal drip. However, other common conditions can cause this sensation. A more common nasal-related effect of COVID is the loss of the sense of smell.

  • How do I get rid of post-nasal drip from acid reflux?

    Changing your diet is the most effective way to reduce reflux-related post-nasal drip. Foods to avoid include citrus, tomatoes, onions, fatty foods, alcohol, and caffeine. Also, do not eat within three hours of bedtime. In some cases, you may also benefit from losing weight or taking medication for acid reflux disease. 

  • How can you relieve post-nasal drip naturally?

    Saline nasal sprays can help loosen mucus and clear nasal passages to stop post-nasal drip. A neti pot that irrigates the sinuses may also help. Dietary changes that may be beneficial include avoiding dairy, drinking more water, and eating spicy foods. Diffusing peppermint, eucalyptus, or fennel essential oils may also offer some relief. 

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