The production of one to two quarts of mucus is a normal function that the body performs everyday. This production is one of the defense mechanisms of the body. Mucus helps in keeping inhaled foreign particles such as bacteria and virus from entering the body, by trapping and destroying them. Mucus also helps in keeping the body comfortable from inside by humidifying the air that is being inhaled, apart from keeping the nasal passages clean and moist. And all this amount of mucus gets swallowed everyday without getting noticed.
Due to certain factors, the body produces more mucus than normal or the mucus becomes thicker than usual. And when this excess mucus starts draining down the back of the throat or accumulating in the throat, it is known as post-nasal drip. Causes may vary depending on whether the excess mucus is thin or thick. Thin mucus usually indicates infections such as common cold or flu, allergens, cold environment, hormonal disturbances, deviated septum, spicy foods, and certain drugs. Thick mucus is caused by inhaling dry air, sinus infections, and food allergies.
Over The Counter Treatment
Treatment depends on what is causing the post-nasal drip. To deal with allergies, antihistamines and decongestants are commonly used. These may be combined with steroids or nasal sprays for better relief. Usually thick, green or yellow mucus indicates a bacterial infection, and can be treated with antibiotics. However, this is not so in all cases. Sometimes, even viral infections can result in such kind of mucus. Some people may also benefit from medicines that help thin mucus, or nasal irrigation.
The above medicines however, can trigger side effects. So it is important to check with a doctor before using them. This is more important for pregnant or nursing women, people with high blood pressure, diabetes or any thyroid problems.
Home Remedies/Self-Care Measures
# Mild symptoms of post-nasal drip can be relieved by gargling warm saline water. Take about ½ a tablespoon of common salt and 1 cup of warm water, and gargle whenever you feel any irritation in your throat.
# Prepare a mix of lukewarm water (distilled or sterile), non-iodized salt (¼ to ½ teaspoon) and baking soda (a pinch). Now fill a sterile nasal syringe or a bulb syringe with the solution. Lean over the sink and tilt your head sideways (do not tilt your head back). Now place the tip of the syringe inside the nostril that is pointing up. Keep your mouth open and squirt some of the liquid inside the nose.
Breathe through your mouth whilst the procedure. Let the water run through your nasal passages and drain out of the other nostril and probably your mouth. Do not swallow it. Thereafter, gently blow your nose, and repeat the procedure with the other nostril. This process is known as nasal irrigation. (Note: nasal irrigation must not be used if the patient has an ear infection or a stuffy nose.)
# Having a steam bath or inhaling steam also helps alleviate the discomfort of post-nasal drip. Let your bathroom fill with steam, and sit inside the room for 10-15 minutes. This will help loosen the mucus and clear the nasal passages. Another method is to pour some boiling water into a large bowl, and add a few drops of eucalyptus oil into it. Now lean over the bowl, and place a towel over your head so that it drapes the bowl. Slowly inhale the steam.
# Increase your fluid intake including water. This will keep your body well hydrated and help in thinning the mucus.
# Prevent dry air by using a humidifier in your room. Alternately, you can also keep a kettle of water boiling on low heat. The steam will help humidify the room.
# Avoid exposure to allergens such as pet dander, pollens, dust, etc. Avoid smoking including passive smoking, and fumes from chemicals, perfumes, cleaning products, etc.
# Avoid milk products and spicy foods. Such foods usually trigger mucus flow.
Post-nasal drip is not a severe condition, but could be annoying for most, especially for kids. Following the above remedies should help you recuperate from this condition within a few days. Seek medical help if you notice that the symptoms are persistent or showing no signs of improvement even after 10 days.