Postnasal Drip and Asthma

Clearing up postnasal drip can help you feel better

Is postnasal drip contributing to your poor asthma control? If you think it may be, learn to identify the cause and get your drip under control.

Close-up of woman holding her throat
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Overview

Postnasal drip is a condition that occurs when your nose produces too much mucus. When this excess mucus comes out of the front of your nose, a simple runny nose occurs. Postnasal drip happens when the excess mucus produced by your nose and other glands runs from your nose down the back of your throat. This process occurs naturally, but when you are producing more mucus than usual or mucus is exceptionally thick, you can experience the uncomfortable sensation of postnasal drip.

Symptoms

The biggest symptom of postnasal drip is prolonged discomfort. As fluid builds up in the back of your throat, you may feel as if you constantly need to swallow, or that there is an itch in your throat that you can’t scratch. This irritation can lead to coughing and wheezing as well, and postnasal drip is actually one of the most common causes of chronic cough.

Coughing can lead to additional soreness and irritation. That’s why answering “what is nasal drip” can be so difficult: The symptoms so commonly lead to other symptoms, and cause other problems along the way.

Causes

Since postnasal drip results from over-production of mucus, there are many possible causes. Both the flu and the common cold can lead to postnasal drip. Environmental factors like allergies, certain foods, and certain weather conditions can also induce postnasal drip. Certain medications can lead to postnasal drip, as can a deviated septum or general sinus infection or inflammation.

Another common cause of postnasal drip is laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) or silent reflux. It is called silent reflux because it is not associated with heartburn and is very different from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Rather than an excess production of mucus, LPR increases the sensitivity of the back of of the throat to mucus. Laryngopharyngeal reflux is characterized by throat clearing, postnasal drip, and occasionally a nighttime cough.

The treatment of laryngopharyngeal reflux is very different from the treatment of other causes of postnasal drip. If postnasal drip does not improve with methods aimed at decreasing mucus production, see an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT) for proper evaluation.

Treatment

Doctor-recommended treatments of postnasal drip depend on the cause of mucus accumulation. If a bacterial infection is to blame, antibiotics may be prescribed. Antihistamines and decongestants can help relieve mucus buildup when an infection is viral, and several mucus-thinning medications exist to help with the issue as well.

Be careful to not overuse Afrin or generic nasal sprays containing oxymetazoline, as doing so can lead to dependency and rebound congestion.

However, in addition to these conventional and doctor-prescribed or recommended over-the-counter treatments, there are a number of home treatments you can try to relieve the symptoms and fight the causes of postnasal drip.

Home treatments can help reduce the symptoms of postnasal drip and fight some of the more common causes. They can be used in combination or in tandem with many prescription treatments, so try each until you find the ones that bring you relief. If your symptoms get worse and postnasal drip becomes disruptive in your daily life, see a doctor who may be able to prescribe treatment that will control the problem once and for all.

Nasal Irrigation: Nasal irrigation involves introducing a saline solution into the sinuses and nasal canal, either with a nasal spray or a neti pot. Neti pots are a popular and proven option that can help clear out a lot of mucus quickly. Using a neti pot may not relieve postnasal drip immediately, but will get rid of a lot of the mucus that builds up in the nose and sinuses and ends up causing nasal drip down the road.

Vaporizer or HumidifierMany people find that the irritation caused by postnasal drip gets exacerbated by dry air, which can lead to coughing and throat irritation of its own. By using a humidifier in your home, you can protect your throat from additional irritation provoked by dry air. Plus, many causes of postnasal drip—for example, allergies—are effectively mitigated by a good in-home humidifier. However, the moist air can cause additional mucus issues in some people, so make sure to pay attention to the effects on you.

Propping Head Up With a Pillow: Many people notice that postnasal drip is worst in the morning or late at night: This may be caused by mucus pooling in the back of the throat while you're lying down. To prevent this, try propping up your head at a more aggressive angle when you sleep. If you are able to prop your head at a steeper angle, mucus won’t be able to pool up as easily, and you should notice a marked decrease in occurrences of postnasal drip in the early morning or throughout the night. 

Alleviating Allergies: One of the most common causes of postnasal drip is airborne allergens. By fighting some of the most common in-home airborne allergens, you can fight post-nasal drip indirectly. Make sure to vacuum your home thoroughly, and keep all of your bedding clean. You may consider protecting your mattress with a dust mite-proof cover as well, to stop dust from building up in your bedding and leading to postnasal drip.   

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