On a daily basis, glands located in the nose and throat produce anywhere from 1 to 2 quarts of mucous. Better known as snot, the purpose of this rather gooey stuff is to keep nasal passages moist and to fight off invasive bacteria and viruses before they cause infection.
Under normal circumstances, people don’t notice this ongoing production of mucous because it drips down the back of the throat in small amounts and it is then swallowed. Yes, unsettling as it may sound, everybody swallows snot. However, this process will become more noticeable when the body either produces more thin mucous or if the normal amount of mucous is thicker in texture. An excessive amount of mucous is recognized in one of two ways. It will either come out the front of the nose and result in a “runny” nose, or it will run down the back of the nose and into the throat. In the latter case, this is known as post-nasal drip.
When an individual experiences post-nasal drip, he or she will typically want to clear the throat frequently. Liquid in the throat can also be irritating and cause a cough that is usually worse during nighttime hours. Post-nasal drip is actually the most common cause of a chronic cough. The condition can also result in hoarseness and if it occurs for a long enough period of time, a sore throat. Also, if significant amounts of mucous are swallowed, nausea and/or an upset stomach can occur.
The Eustachian Tube runs from the back of the nose to the middle ear, and when this pathway becomes plugged with mucous, it can lead to an ear infection. A sore throat itself can also result in referred ear pain. Likewise, when sinus passes are similarly blocked, a sinus infection can develop.
There are many causes of abnormal secretions that lead to post-nasal drip. The most common of these include:
Certain foods; especially dairy products and hot, spicy foods
Medications, such as birth control pills and drugs used to treat high blood pressure
A lack of humidity in the air
Treatment for post-nasal drip will depend on the underlying cause. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Many people are under the false assumption that greenish-yellow mucous indicates a bacterial culprit, but this is not necessarily the case. For instance, the common cold virus can also turn mucous the same color Antihistamines and decongestants will relieve post-nasal drip caused by sinusitis and viral infections. If allergies or environmental settings are causing the condition, the treatment is to avoid exposure to whatever triggers it. Thick secretions of mucous can also be reduced by drinking lots of water or using a vaporizer while sleeping.
If post-nasal drip is accompanied by a foul odor, fever, blood, or has lasted for more than ten days, this could indicate a serious condition and should thus be addressed by a physician.