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Oral-health

02 November 2018

Bad breath? The problem might be your nose

Wondering what might be causing your bad breath? Post nasal drip could be the culprit.

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If you struggle with bad breath, you've probably tried everything to get rid of the problem – from breath mints to mouthwashes. When these do not work, you need to figure out what the root of the problem is. 

Something you might not have considered is blocked sinuses, often the cause of bad breath and often overlooked. Post nasal drip bad breath can cause a bad taste in the mouth and is associated with chronic nasal infection. 

Although sinuses don't seem to have much to do with bad breath, post nasal drip is a frequent cause of halitosis.

How does chronic nasal congestion cause post nasal bad breath? 

The glands in your nose and throat are always producing mucus, a thick substance that moistens and cleans the nasal membranes while getting rid of inhaled foreign matter. It also fights infections by destroying bacteria and viruses.

Your body has been designed to get rid of any excess mucus that is in your nose. The mucus mixes with your saliva and drips harmlessly down the back of your throat, usually when you swallow. However, when your body produces excess or thicker mucus, it becomes more noticeable. You are aware of it building up in your throat or dripping from the back of your nose. This is what is referred to as post nasal drip.

Conditions that cause post nasal drip and bad breath

  • The common cold or flu (influenza)
  • Allergies, leading to allergic post nasal drip
  • Sinus infection or sinusitis
  • Certain medications, including blood pressure pills or the birth control pill
  • A deviated septum

bad breath

How to tell if it is post nasal drip causing your bad breath

There are a few signs that will indicate whether your bad breath is caused by post nasal drip:

  • A frequent need to clear your throat. When mucus drains from the sinuses it often collects at the top of the throat, causing irritation. 
  • Constantly swallowing or a feeling that you have a lump in your throat. 
  • Continual sore throats that do not develop into illness. Post nasal drip can cause the cilia (tiny nasal hairs) to stop functioning properly. This causes a collection of crusty mucus in the nasal and throat lining, which in turn causes inflammation and irritation.
  • Difficulty breathing is very common for people with post nasal drip. Mucus build-up in the nose can make breathing through your nose difficult, while a sore throat and coughing can make breathing through your mouth difficult too.

All these unfortunate situations can cause bad breath due to the build-up of foreign matter. 

Treatments for post nasal drip bad breath 

Treating post nasal drip is easier if the cause has been identified, as treatment varies depending on the cause.

  • Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. These drugs may, however, only provide temporary relief. In cases of chronic sinusitis, surgery to open the blocked sinuses may be required.
  • Allergies are managed by avoiding the causes, such as foods or pollen in spring. 
  • Doctors may prescribe medication to decrease these reactions like steroid (cortisone type) nasal sprays, and other forms of steroids. Immunotherapy, either by shots or sublingual drops, works well too. 

Gastroesophageal reflux can be relieved by:

  • Elevating the head of your bed
  • Avoiding foods and beverages two to three hours before bedtime
  • Eliminating any trigger foods and liquids (alcohol and caffeine are two of the most common culprits)
  • Medication to neutralise stomach acid or reduce its production

Decongestants can be helpful but should be used with caution as they may aggravate high blood pressure, heart conditions and thyroid disease. Steroid sprays can be used safely under medical supervision. 

Image credit: iStock 

 

Ask the Expert

Oral health expert

Dr Imraan Hoosen qualified from the Medical University of South Africa in 1997. Together with his partner, Dr Hoosen now runs a group of dental practices around Johannesburg (Lesedi Private Hospital, Highlands North Medical Centre , Brenthurst Clinic, Parklane Clinic, Simmonds Street Medical and Dental Centre, Soni Medical Centre- Newclare). Dr Hoosen can be contacted on 011 933 4096.

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