Postnasal Drip

Clearing up your chronic runny nose so you can breathe and sleep better

Postnasal drip happens when the mucus draining from your nose into your throat becomes thicker or thinner than normal. The condition is a common side effect of rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passages) and sinusitis (sinus infection).

Postnasal drip can be an aggravating condition and is difficult to control. There are multiple reasons you might experience postnasal drip, including:

  • Allergies
  • Common cold
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Sinus infection
  • Strep throat infection
  • Structural abnormality in the nose or sinuses

Postnasal drip is usually worse at night when you are lying down. You may also experience a sore throat and persistent cough due to postnasal drip. If you have postnasal drip for an extended period of time, treatment can help alleviate your symptoms.

Overview

Postnasal drip can be an aggravating condition and is difficult to control. There are multiple reasons you might experience postnasal drip, including:

  • Allergies
  • Common cold
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Sinus infection
  • Strep throat infection
  • Structural abnormality in the nose or sinuses

Postnasal drip is usually worse at night when you are lying down. You may also experience a sore throat and persistent cough due to postnasal drip. If you have postnasal drip for an extended period of time, treatment can help alleviate your symptoms.

The first step to finding the right treatment plan for your postnasal drip is discovering its cause. Your diagnosis may include a physical exam, medical history and allergy skin testing.

Allergy skin testing can help determine your sensitivities so you can avoid the substances and find the best treatment option. During skin testing, your skin is pricked in several places to expose you to small, safe amounts of allergens such as pollen or dust mites. If the area around the exposure site becomes swollen and red, your body is sensitized to that substance. Allergy skin testing is safe and offers quick results.

Diagnosis

The first step to finding the right treatment plan for your postnasal drip is discovering its cause. Your diagnosis may include a physical exam, medical history and allergy skin testing.

Allergy skin testing can help determine your sensitivities so you can avoid the substances and find the best treatment option. During skin testing, your skin is pricked in several places to expose you to small, safe amounts of allergens such as pollen or dust mites. If the area around the exposure site becomes swollen and red, your body is sensitized to that substance. Allergy skin testing is safe and offers quick results.

Depending on your diagnosis, treatment for postnasal drip may include:

Allergy Medicines

Many over-the-counter and prescription allergy medicines offer relief from postnasal drip.

  • Antihistamines block production of histamine, a substance that causes swelling of your airways. This reduces how much mucus you produce, eliminating postnasal drip.
  • Decongestants also reduce swelling of the blood vessels in your nose, allowing you to breathe easier, and decrease mucus production. You can become dependent on decongestant sprays, so it is important to follow your doctor’s directions exactly on how to use them.
  • Prescription nasal steroid sprays also relax your airways and decrease the amount of mucus in your nasal passageways.

Allergy Education

Postnasal drip is most commonly caused by airborne allergens, which can be difficult to avoid. Learning about products and strategies you can use to reduce your exposure to these allergens will help. For example, by keeping your windows shut and installing high quality air filters, you can greatly reduce the number of allergens in your home.

Referral to Specialists

If your allergy testing shows that you do not have allergies, there may be another cause for your postnasal drip. IU Health Ear, Nose and Throat physicians can diagnose and provide surgical treatment of structural abnormalities that may cause postnasal drip.

Treatment

Depending on your diagnosis, treatment for postnasal drip may include:

Allergy Medicines

Many over-the-counter and prescription allergy medicines offer relief from postnasal drip.

  • Antihistamines block production of histamine, a substance that causes swelling of your airways. This reduces how much mucus you produce, eliminating postnasal drip.
  • Decongestants also reduce swelling of the blood vessels in your nose, allowing you to breathe easier, and decrease mucus production. You can become dependent on decongestant sprays, so it is important to follow your doctor’s directions exactly on how to use them.
  • Prescription nasal steroid sprays also relax your airways and decrease the amount of mucus in your nasal passageways.

Allergy Education

Postnasal drip is most commonly caused by airborne allergens, which can be difficult to avoid. Learning about products and strategies you can use to reduce your exposure to these allergens will help. For example, by keeping your windows shut and installing high quality air filters, you can greatly reduce the number of allergens in your home.

Referral to Specialists

If your allergy testing shows that you do not have allergies, there may be another cause for your postnasal drip. IU Health Ear, Nose and Throat physicians can diagnose and provide surgical treatment of structural abnormalities that may cause postnasal drip.

Patient Stories for Postnasal Drip

American Academy of Otolaryngologists

This physician association website offers in-depth information on the causes and treatments of postnasal drip, as well as its effect on your throat and ability to swallow.

MedlinePlus

This government website discusses the causes of postnasal drip and how it is diagnosed. It also offers guidance on what to expect when visiting your doctor about postnasal drip.

Resources

American Academy of Otolaryngologists

This physician association website offers in-depth information on the causes and treatments of postnasal drip, as well as its effect on your throat and ability to swallow.

MedlinePlus

This government website discusses the causes of postnasal drip and how it is diagnosed. It also offers guidance on what to expect when visiting your doctor about postnasal drip.