Every day, glands in the linings of your nose, throat, airways, stomach, and intestinal tract produce mucus. Your nose alone makes about a quart of it each day. Mucus is a thick, wet substance that moistens these areas and helps trap and destroy foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses before they cause infection.
Normally, you don’t notice the mucus
from your nose because it mixes with saliva, drips harmlessly down the back of your throat, and you swallow it.
When your body produces more mucus than usual or it’s thicker than normal, it becomes more noticeable.
The excess can come out of the nostrils — that’s a runny nose. When the mucus runs down the back of your nose to your throat, it’s called postnasal drip.
What is postnasal drip?
Postnasal drip is a common occurrence, affecting almost everyone at some point in their lives. The glands in your nose and throat continually produce mucus to:
- fight infection
- moisten nasal membranes
- filter out foreign matter
You typically swallow the mucus without even realizing it.
When your body starts producing extra mucus, you might feel it accumulate in the back of your throat. You may also feel it dripping down your throat from your nose. This is called postnasal drip.
Common symptoms of postnasal drip include:
- feeling that you need to constantly clear your throat or swallow
- a cough that’s worse at night
- nausea from excess mucus
- moving into your stomach
- sore, scratchy throat
- bad breath
Causes of postnasal drip
A number of conditions can cause postnasal drip. Allergies are one of the most common. If you get tested for allergies, you can better avoid your triggers or premedicate if you know you’ll be exposed.
Another common cause is a deviated septum, which means that the thin wall of cartilage between your nostrils (or septum) is displaced or leans to one side. This makes one nasal passage smaller, and can prevent proper mucus drainage, resulting in postnasal drip.
Other causes of postnasal drip include:
- cold temperatures
- viral infections resulting in the cold or flu
- sinus infections
- changes in the weather
- dry air
- spicy foods
- certain medications, including some blood pressure and birth control prescriptions
In some cases, the problem causing postnasal drip isn’t excessive mucus, but your throat’s inability to clear it. Swallowing problems or gastric reflux can cause liquids to build up in your throat, which feels like postnasal drip.
Postnasal drip home remediesIt’s possible to naturally reduce postnasal drip at home. Here’s what you can do:
Prop up your head
Elevate your head to let gravity drain mucus from your nasal passages. Avoid lying down while reading or watching television.
At night, keep your head slightly elevated. You can do this by propping your pillow against your headboard or stacking two pillows.
Avoid placing your head too high, though, as it can cause neck and shoulder pain.
Drink fluids, especially hot fluids
Drink a lot of fluids to thin out mucus. The thinner the mucus, the easier it can pass through your nasal cavities.
Drinking fluids will also moisturize your nasal lining. Hot drinks, like tea or broth, are the best choice. The warmth of these beverages will thin your mucus.
Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee, caffeinated tea, or soda. Caffeine has a diuretic effect, which may increase your risk of dehydration.
Gargling saltwater will loosen up mucus. It’s also helpful for soothing a sore throat.
To make a saltwater gargle, dissolve ½-teaspoon of salt into 8 ounces of warm water. Gargle for as long as it feels comfortable, then spit it out. Repeat twice a day.
Steam inhalation can ease postnasal drip by thinning mucus. The steam will also moisten your nose and throat, helping mucus pass through.
You can inhale steam during a hot shower or bath. Another option is to try steam inhalation therapy:
- Pour hot water into a large heat-safe (like stainless-steel) bowl.
- Drape a towel over your head.
- Hover your face 8 to 12 inches above the water. Avoid directly touching the water.
- Inhale deeply and slowly. Continue for 2 to 5 minutes. Repeat twice a day.
Use a humidifier
A humidifier adds moisture to the air, which can help reduce mucus. This can be especially soothing during the winter when indoor air is dry.
Regularly clean your humidifier. If it’s dirty, harmful germs might grow inside of it.
MIMI (Multi ion mask insert)
- Can be worn with any facemask and provides additional heavy-duty protection.
- Adult & Youth Sizes Available
A nasal rinse can loosen thick or excess mucus. It’s also known as a sinus rinse, sinus flush, or nasal irrigation.
Nasal rinse products are available at the drugstore. Neti pots and squeeze bottles are common options.
Never use tap water, as it may contain harmful germs. Instead, use water that is distilled, sterile, or previously boiled and cooled.
Avoid alcohol and cigarette smoke
Avoid alcohol, which can lead to dehydration and worsen postnasal drip. This is especially important if your postnasal drip is due to GERD, as alcohol can worsen your symptoms.
You should also avoid cigarette smoke, including secondhand smoke. Cigarette smoke can increase mucus secretion and irritate your nose and throat. While quitting is difficult, your doctor can help you build a quit smoking plan that works for you.
GERD home remedies
Home remedies for decreasing GERD symptoms include:
- avoiding spicy foods
- limiting caffeine use
- losing weight
- propping up your head when you lie down in bed
- smoking cessation
See a doctor if GERD is interfering with your quality of life.
Does apple cider vinegar work for postnasal drip?
According to anecdotal evidence, apple cider vinegar can help postnasal drip.
Some people breathe in apple cider vinegar by sniffing the bottle. Others drink diluted apple cider vinegar in tea or warm water. The idea is that the strong odor and taste of apple cider vinegar can loosen mucus.
But there’s no evidence that this method works. Apple cider vinegar for postnasal drip has never been studied. Additionally, drinking apple cider vinegar can damage your teeth, especially if it’s undiluted.
If you want to use this remedy, do so with caution.
Typically, postnasal drip can be alleviated at home. Elevate your head at night to help mucus drain. You can also gargle saltwater, inhale steam, use a humidifier, and drink warm fluids. These remedies will thin mucus and moisturize your nasal passages.
If necessary, use OTC remedies in combination with home remedies. But if your postnasal drip gets worse or doesn’t go away, see a doctor. You should also get medical help if you have a fever, difficulty swallowing, and bloody or smelly mucus.
The best way to prevent postnasal drip is to reduce exposure to allergens as much as possible. Here are a few tips:
- Take a daily allergy medication or get regular allergy shots.
- Keep your home as clean and dust-free as possible.
- Use mattress and pillow covers to protect against dust mites.
- Change air filters on your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system regularly.
- Shower before bed whenever you’ve spent a lot of time outside if you’re allergic to pollen.
Most postnasal drip is benign, if annoying. If you experience any additional symptoms alongside the postnasal drip, consider making an appointment with your doctor for treatment recommendations.