Colds and flu

Updated 18 June 2015

Self-help for post-nasal drip

A post nasal drip during winter can cause much discomfort. Most cases are caused by viruses and clear up by themselves, but what can you do about that nagging sensation in the back of your throat? We look at simple ways to clear your throat.

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What is a post nasal drip?

The glands in the lining of your nose, throat and upper airways are constantly producing mucus to keep your airways moist and to prevent them from drying out.  

When viruses or bacteria find their way into our upper airways, the warm and moist area provides a perfect breeding ground for them. As your immune system fights off these intruders, the body's inflammatory response leads to the production of thick mucus and phlegm.

How do I know I have a post nasal drip?

The very annoying sensation of “something thick” in the back of your throat is usually the first thing you will notice. At times you may feel mucous dripping down your throat, prompting you to swallow. You may also experience a sore throat and a cough that may become worse during the night when you lie flat and swallow less often.

Can I treat post nasal drip at home?

Most cases of post-nasal drip can be treated at home with over-the-counter remedies and a few tips and tricks:

1. Try sleeping on more than one pillow – this will promote the draining of mucus from your upper airways.

2. Humidifying the air in your bedroom may also help.

3. A hot shower can help – the steam will thin the mucus in your nasal passages, allowing easier drainage.

4. Irrigating your nose with a saline solution will clear the thick phlegm and also keep your mucous membrane moist.

You can also try the following over the counter medications:

1. Decongestants like Phenylephrine or Oxymetazoline

2. Normal saline (se salt) drops in your nostrils

3. Lozenges like Strepsils may help relieve a sore throat, or your can try a benzydamine (like Andolex) solution to  gargle. Adding 1/2 - 1 tsp of salt to 500 ml of water with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) will also do the trick.

(Note: You should always consult a medical practitioner if you are considering new medication)

When should I go to a doctor?

Post nasal drips usually clear up without a trip to the doctor. Occasionally, when caused by bacteria, antibiotics are necessary. The following are signs that you might need antibiotics for your post-nasal drip:

1. Thick yellow, green or brown mucus draining from your nose or into the back of your throat

2. Bloody discharge from your nose or when your clear your throat

3. Persistent fevers

4. When the mucus from your nose or the phlegm from your throat is foul-smelling

5. Any hoarseness or change in voice

6. When your symptoms don’t clear up within about a week

In the case of children, best would be to have a medical practitioner examine your child. Often, post-nasal drips can be the cause of more severe respiratory tract infections if not treated or diagnosed correctly.

Read more:

Can chronic post-nasal drip be connected to your digestive system's health?

Image: Man covering his nose from Shutterstock

Dr. Owen J. Wiese is Health24's resident doctor. After graduating from Stellenbosch University with additional qualifications in biochemistry and physiology he developed a keen interest in providing medical information through the media.

 

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Ask the Expert

Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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