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Postnasal Drip

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is postnasal drip?

Postnasal drip is a condition that causes a large amount of mucus to collect in your throat or nose. It may also be called upper airway cough syndrome because the mucus causes repeated coughing. You may have a sore throat, or throat tissues may swell. This may feel like a lump in your throat. You may also feel like you need to clear your throat often.

What causes postnasal drip?

  • A cold or the flu
  • Allergies, such as hay fever or a milk allergy
  • Cold air, or dry air in a heated area
  • Pregnancy or hormone changes
  • Medical conditions such as a deviated septum, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), or problems with structures in your throat
  • Certain medicines, such as birth control pills and blood pressure medicines
  • An infection in your sinuses or nose

How is postnasal drip diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. Tell your provider if you have symptoms all the time or if they come and go. Include anything that triggers your symptoms, such as cold air or pollen. A sample of the mucus may be tested for bacteria that could be causing your symptoms.

  • Medicines may be given to thin the mucus. You may need to swallow the medicine or use a device to flush your sinuses with liquid squirted into your nose. Nasal sprays may also be needed to keep the tissues in your nose moist. Medicines can also relieve congestion. Allergy medicine may help if your symptoms are caused by seasonal allergies, such as hay fever. You may need medicine to help control GERD.
  • Antibiotics may be needed to treat a bacterial infection.

What can I do to manage postnasal drip?

  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer. Use a cool mist humidifier or a vaporizer to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe.
  • Drink more liquids as directed. Liquids help keep your air passages moist and help you cough up mucus. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Avoid cold air and dry, heated air. Cold or dry air can trigger postnasal drip. Try to stay inside on cold days, or keep your mouth covered. Do not stay long in areas that have dry, heated air.
  • Do not smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can irritate your throat and make coughing worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have trouble breathing because of the mucus.
  • You have new or worsening symptoms, even with treatment.
  • You have signs of an infection, such as yellow or green mucus, or a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.