Postnasal drip is a common condition that can make you feel 10/10 crummy. But don’t worry! We have you (and your sinuses) covered. Here are the best treatment options for your nose’s needs.
Fast facts: Postnasal drip
Postnasal drip is a condition where sinus secretions drip down your nasal passages and into your throat.
What causes it? Postnasal drip is usually caused by the common cold or allergies. It can also be triggered by a deviated septum or environmental factors (e.g., irritants or low air quality).
What are the symptoms? Common symptoms include a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and congestion.
How do I treat it? Treatment depends on how severe your symptoms are. Your doc might suggest steroid nasal sprays, oral steroids, antihistamines, oral decongestants, mucus thinners, immunotherapy, or combination drugs.
You can also try home remedies like saline irrigation, drinking hot liquids, or gargling warm salt water.
Lots of factors can cause postnasal drip. Here’s a rundown of the most common culprits.
Allergies. Dear allergies, GTFO. Love, EVERYONE. Allergies are the pits. They’re also one of the main causes of postnasal drip. Common triggers include pollen, mold, animal dander, and dust mites.
Deviated septum. This is when your septum — the thin layer of cartilage between your nostrils — leans to one side. This can prevent proper mucus drainage.
Environmental or lifestyle factors. Your environment or daily activities can also trigger a snot sesh. This includes:
- dry air
- spicy food
- weather changes
- cold temperatures
- viral infections like the flu or a cold
- smoking or exposure to second hand smoke
What are sinuses anyway?
The sinuses are hollow spaces in your skull and facial bones. Their main job is to produce mucus.
The paranasal sinus system is made up of:
- a maxillary sinus near your cheekbones
- a pair of sphenoid sinuses behind your eyes
- a frontal sinus on either side of your forehead
- 6 to 12 ethmoid sinuses on each side of your nose and between your eyes
Mucus deserves a moment
Mucus gets a bad rap, but it’s actually uber important. The National Institute of Health says that it contains lots of special sugars, proteins, and molecules that help defend against germs. It also acts as a protective barrier in your respiratory system. Thanks mucus 🤗.
Postnasal drip symptoms can vary from slightly annoying to totally uncomfortable. This includes:
- bad breath
- loss of smell or taste
- a sore or scratchy throat
- constant urge to swallow or clear your throat
You might also experience nausea or diarrhea from the excess mucus you swallow 🤢.
Postnasal drip isn’t a one-size-fits-all snot sitch. Treatment depends on your unique symptoms. Here’s a rundown of your best options.
Histamines are chemicals your immune system releases in response to an allergen. Antihistamines can block this reaction. They come in nasal, pill, or liquid form.
Antihistamines are broken into two groups:
Sedating (first-generation) antihistamines can relieve your symptoms but might make you super sleepy or dizzy. You shouldn’t take them if you need to drive or focus. Examples include:
- clemastine (Tavist)
- diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
Nonsedating (second-generation) antihistamines won’t make you as groggy as the sedating kind. But you should still talk with your doc before taking them. They might not mix well with other meds.
- cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- loratadine (Claritin)
- fexofenadine (Allegra)
- levocetirizine (Xyzal)
If you have allergies, oral decongestants can be a legit breath of fresh air. They may help reduce sinus swelling and make it easier to breathe through your nose.
The most popular decongestants are:
- phenylephrine (Suphedrin PE or Sudafed PE)
- oxymetazoline (Vicks Sinex, Dristan)
- pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Silfedrine, or Suphedrin)
Keep in mind, oral decongestants aren’t your best bet if you have a heart condition, diabetes, or thyroid problems. They can increase your blood pressure and heart rate.
These sprays can help release the river of snot that’s been building up in your sinuses. They may help temporarily shrink your blood vessels to reduce nasal tissue swelling.
- oxymetazoline (Dristan or Afrin)
- phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine)
PSA: Don’t go spray cray. Chronic use can lead to rhinitis medicamentosa — a rebound nasal congestion condition that can cause inflammation.
Steroid nasal sprays
Intranasal corticosteroids are steroids you can spray right into your nose. They may help relieve congestion in the short term.
Examples of nasal steroids include:
- acetonide (Tri-Nasal)
- budesonide (Rhinocort)
- triamcinolone (Nasacort)
- flunisolide (Nasalide, Nasarel)
- fluticasone furoate (Veramyst)
- ciclesonide (Omnaris, Zetonna)
- mometasone furoate (Nasonex)
- fluticasone propionate (Flonase)
- beclomethasone (Vancenase, Beconase, Vancenase AQ, or Beconase AQ)
FYI: Steroid nasal sprays aren’t meant for long-term use. A 2012 research review showed that these sprays can cause drying, stinging, burning, sneezing, or headaches. They can also give you a bloody nose if used incorrectly.
Steroid pills might be prescribed if other meds don’t do the trick. They can treat severe allergies and reduce inflammation. Like steroid nasal sprays, they’re only meant for short-term use.
One of the most popular forms of oral steroids for postnasal drip is called prednisone. You need an Rx to get it.
Postnasal drip can make good mucus break bad. Your once clear, watery mucus can turn into thick and discolored goop. A mucus thinning agent can help get things back on track.
A popular formula is guaifenesin (Mucinex, Humibid, Fenesin, or Organidin).
The goal of immunotherapy is to reduce your response to allergies. You’re given small amounts of an allergen until you build up an immunity. This can make you less sensitive over time.
Peanut butter is great on its own. But when you pair it with chocolate? Game changer. That’s sort of the idea behind combination drugs.
Combination drugs team up Avengers-style to treat multiple symptoms at the same time. A small 2012 study showed that in certain cases, they can be more effective than individual treatments.
Common combos include a blend of:
- anti-cough agents
- mucus thinning agents
Your doc will let you know which mix of meds might work best.
Here are some DIY remedy tips to show that drip who’s boss.
Stay hella hydrated. A 2006 research review showed that fluids can help your phlegm flow. Pro tip: Warm liquids work best.
Get gargling. A simple mix of salt and warm water can work wonders. It can clear out stuck-up gunk in the back of your throat or mouth. Just stir a teaspoon of salt into 8 ounces of warm water and go to town. P.S. Don’t swallow.
Keep the air moist. Dry air can make your postnasal drip symptoms go from ugh to UGHHH!!! Try a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer to pump up the moisture volume in your home.
Slay that steam. A nice hot shower can help steam clean your sinuses. You can also try a personal sinus steam inhaler.
Try to quit smoking. Smoking is bad, mkay? Cigs can irritate your sinuses and trigger excess mucus, coughing, and congestion. Smoking also increases your risk of developing serious conditions like lung cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Lots of warm or hot liquids can thin out your mucus and prevent dehydration. Some top choices include:
- herbal tea
- bone broth
- vegetable broth
- hot water with honey and lemon
- hot water with fresh ginger and lime
And of course there’s the classic… chicken noodle soup. It’s delicious, nutritious, and hella soothing. Feel free to have yours with a soda on the side 😉.
Rinsing your sinuses with salt water can flush out pollen, dust, and debris. It can also loosen thick snot and ease postnasal drip symptoms.
Here’s how you do it:
- Stand with your head over a sink.
- Tilt your head to one side.
- Pour or squeeze a sterile saline solution into your upper nostril. You can use a bulb syringe, neti pot, or squeeze bottle.
- Let the solution pour out your other nostril.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Gently blow your nose to expel any excess snot.
Saline safety PSA
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests you use boiled, distilled, or filtered water. You also have to make sure you disinfect your gear before and after each use. This can reduce your risk of developing an infection.
While postnasal drip can be annoying, it’s usually not cause for concern. But you should call your doc if you have:
- bloody snot
- a persistent cough
- an unexplained fever
- smelly mucus or drainage
- shortness of breath or wheezing
You should also let your doctor know if symptoms last for more than 10 days. Postnasal drip can lead to a sinus or ear infection if left untreated.
You can reduce your risk of postnasal drip by limiting your exposure to irritants and allergens. Here are some top prevention tips:
Postnasal drip is a condition that causes mucus to drain from your sinuses and into your throat. It’s usually caused by allergies, the common cold, or a deviated septum. It can also be triggered by lifestyle factors like smoking, cold environments, or dry air.
There are beaucoup medical options that can treat your postnasal drip symptoms. Your doc can recommend which one would be best for you. In the meantime, you can try a home remedy.