Health Education

Postnasal drip treatment and medications

Cropped SingleCare logo By | January 16, 2020
Medically reviewed by Anis Rehman, MD

What is postnasal drip? | Postnasal drip diagnosis | Postnasal drip treatment options | Postnasal drip medications | Best postnasal drip medications | Side effects of postnasal drip | Postnasal drip home remedies | FAQ | Resources

Experiencing a cough, sore throat, runny nose, or congestion can be difficult and frustrating to deal with. These are just some of the symptoms that characterize the postnasal drip. Understanding what postnasal drip is and what can be done to treat it is a great first step toward managing symptoms.

What is postnasal drip?

Postnasal drip is the buildup of mucus in the back of the nose and throat. This causes the act of mucus dripping down the throat, and can result in frequent throat clearing, a sore throat, nasal congestion, hoarseness, coughing, or wheezing,  Some people feel nauseous from having excess mucus in their stomach and may even run a fever.

Common causes of postnasal drip include allergies, viral infections that lead to the cold or flu, certain medications, bacterial infections, dry air, spicy foods, sinus infections, pregnancy, or having a deviated septum. The type of treatment recommended will depend on the cause. Postnasal drip caused by allergies might be treated with a nasal spray and an allergy medication like Claritin. Postnasal drip caused by a cold could be treated with decongestants or home remedies.

Sometimes chronic postnasal drip can occur because of bacterial infections or from physiological variances like a deviated septum. If you have chronic or long-lasting postnasal drip, there may be an additional treatment that’s required beyond taking a decongestant or using nasal sprays, so it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional to make sure you get the right treatment.

A healthcare professional will determine the best treatment options for each individual on a case-by-case basis. This guide gives an overview of postnasal drip diagnosis and medications that a doctor may prescribe to treat postnasal drip.

How is postnasal drip diagnosed?

Anyone can experience postnasal drip, especially since it tends to accompany the common cold and flu. Elderly people, young children, or people with weakened immune systems may be at a higher risk for experiencing postnasal drip.

Postnasal drip can sometimes be self-diagnosed with the recognition of symptoms like a cough or sore throat. “A postnasal drip is often felt as a constant drip in the back of the throat by the patient,” explains Payam Daneshrad, MD, an ENT and facial plastic surgeon in California. “Along with the constant need to swallow, the patient will also describe an irritated throat that will oftentimes feel tight. On physical examination, the physician will see clear, thin mucus in the lower portions of the nasal passages. Furthermore, an examination of the back of the throat will demonstrate a cobble-stoned appearance, redness, and swelling in the lining of the back of the throat,”

People who experience chronic or long-lasting postnasal drip may require a laboratory, endoscopic, or X-ray studies to correctly determine what’s causing their symptoms. After diagnosing postnasal drip, a doctor or otolaryngologist can decide the best treatment method based on what’s causing it.

A medical professional may ask the following questions to help confirm a diagnosis:

  • Do you experience allergies?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Do you have a cough that gets worse at night?

Postnasal drip treatment options

Treatment options for postnasal drip depend on the underlying symptoms for each individual. For mild cases of postnasal drip there are a variety of natural and home remedies that can help the condition; from gargling with salt water to nasal irrigation. For more severe or chronic cases of postnasal drip, there are OTC and prescription medications options. We will discuss all viable treatment options in the sections that follow.

Postnasal drip medications

There are many medications available to treat postnasal drip. The type of medication a person should take will depend on what’s causing their symptoms. Antihistamines, decongestants, expectorants, and steroid nasal sprays are all categories of medications used to treat postnasal drip.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are commonly used to treat postnasal drip caused by sinusitis and viral infections, but they’re also used in combination with nasal sprays to treat allergies. Antihistamines work by drying out the mucus that causes coughing, sore throats, and other postnasal drip symptoms. Here are some popular examples of antihistamines:

Side effects associated with antihistamines include dry mouth, dizziness, blurred vision, and abdominal pain.

Decongestants

Decongestants like Sudafed help alleviate sinus pressure that sometimes accompanies postnasal drip. They work by reducing the swelling of nasal tissues and blood vessels that can lead to congestion. Pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine are the two most common ingredients in decongestants. Rebound congestion, dryness, burning, or stinging are some side effects that may result from taking these types of medication. Decongestants are available over-the-counter or by prescription as tablets, liquids, or nasal sprays.

Expectorants

Expectorants work by loosening mucus so that it’s easier to cough up. Expectorants are especially common for treating postnasal drip if it’s caused by the common cold. Mucinex or any medication that includes guaifenesin will help loosen mucus. Expectorants have been known to cause mild side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, or headaches.

Steroid Sprays

Nasal steroid sprays are effective at treating postnasal drip because they reduce the amount of mucus that causes coughing, sinus pressure, and sore throats. Flonase and Rhinocort are examples of nasal sprays that are used to treat allergic rhinitis, which is a recurring postnasal drip due to allergies. (Read more about the difference between Flonase and Rhinocort here.) Ipratropium is an example of a nasal spray used to treat postnasal drip not caused by allergies.

Although they’re not made from steroids, nasal saline sprays can be used to clear mucus, and are a popular choice for children. Side effects of any nasal spray could include burning, stinging, sneezing, or dryness.

What is the best medication for postnasal drip?

There is no one universal postnasal drip medication that’s best for everyone. Individual symptoms and responses to treatment vary. A doctor can determine the best medication for postnasal drip based on an individual’s symptoms, medical history, and response to treatments. Here’s an overview of popular medications that a doctor may prescribe.

Best medications for postnasal drip
Drug Name Drug Class Administration Route Standard Dosage Adverse Effects
Astepro
(azelastine hcl)
Antihistamine Nasal Spray Sprayed into each nostril two times per day Nosebleeds, allergic reaction, and nasal burning
Allfen
(guaifenesin)
Expectorant Oral: comes as a tablet or liquid 200-400mg taken every 4 hours or as directed by a healthcare professional Headache, skin rash, and nausea or vomiting. Should not be used in patients 12 years and younger
Claritin
(loratadine)
Antihistamine Oral: comes as a tablet or liquid Taken as instructed on the package or by a healthcare professional Allergic reaction, nervousness, and breathing problems. Patients with liver or kidney disease should use it cautiously.
Mucinex Expectorant Oral: comes as a tablet, capsule, liquid, and syrup 200-400mg taken every 4 hours or as directed by a healthcare professional Skin rash, nausea or vomiting, and dizziness. It is contraindicated in patients 4 years and younger

A prescribing mental health professional determines the best dosage based on medical conditions, response to treatment, age, and weight. Other possible side effects exist. This is not a complete list.

What are the common side effects of postnasal drip medications?

As with any medication, there are always potential side effects. Common side effects associated with postnasal drip medications include headaches, nasal burning, nausea or vomiting, and nervousness. Contact your doctor or pharmacist if your side effects persist or worsen.

Postnasal drip medications may also cause allergic reactions that result in hives or difficulty breathing. Allergic reactions can be life-threatening. You should seek immediate medical care if you believe you are experiencing an allergic reaction.

This list of side effects is not comprehensive. Ask a healthcare professional for more details regarding the possible side effects of a particular medication.

What are the best home remedies for postnasal drip?

Many people rely on home remedies and natural treatments to help treat their postnasal drip. Certain lifestyle changes may help prevent postnasal drip from worsening. Home remedies, natural treatment options, and lifestyle changes are all ways that people who have postnasal drip can try to reduce their symptoms. Here are some popular home and natural remedies for postnasal drip:

  • Gargling with salt water: Saline water can help clear out mucus and congestion. It helps remove allergens and contaminants that may be trapped in nasal passages. Gargling with salt water several times per day may help relieve symptoms of congestion and a sore throat.
  • Drinking lemon water: Lemons are not only full of Vitamin C but they are also good at loosening mucus. Squeezing half a lemon into a large glass of warm water first thing in the morning can help control mucus production throughout the day. Lemon can also be added to tea, water, juice, or other beverages throughout the day.
  • Inhaling steam: Cold temperatures can make postnasal drip worse, so using a humidifier or creating a steam bath can help control mucus production that causes postnasal drip. It’s also possible to fill a sink with hot water and lean over it with a towel behind the head to catch the steam. This can be done several times a day for 5 or 10 minutes.
  • Doing nasal irrigation: Many people find relief for nasal congestion by using a neti pot. A saline solution is put into a neti pot with the head in a tilted position, water is then poured into one nostril and comes out the other. It’s important to research and follow the instructions carefully when using a neti pot to make sure the saline solution only goes through the nasal passages.
  • Drinking plenty of water: Staying hydrated by drinking lots of water or other fluids can help with postnasal drip. Fluids help thin nasal secretions which can ease symptoms associated with postnasal drip.

Frequently asked questions about postnasal drip

How to get rid of postnasal drip

There are many ways to treat and get rid of postnasal drip. Many people who have postnasal drip find relief through natural and home remedies. Nasal irrigation with a neti pot, drinking lots of fluids, and gargling with salt water are all really good ways to thin out and loosen mucus.

If home remedies don’t work, a trip to a doctor’s office is a good idea to determine what’s causing your postnasal drip. If it’s caused by allergies, an allergy medication like Claritin can help dry out the mucus that causes congestion, coughing, and a sore throat. Other medications like nasal sprays, Mucinex, and Sudafed might be used if postnasal drip is being caused by a cold or the flu.

How long can postnasal drip last?

Most cases of postnasal drip will go away within a few days, but doctors recommend visiting a medical professional if symptoms haven’t cleared up within 10 days. If long-lasting postnasal drip goes untreated, it can cause other health problems like ear and sinus infections. Though it’s rare, some people have recurrent chronic postnasal drip because of deviated septums, certain medications, or allergies.

Is postnasal drip serious?

Postnasal drip is not considered a serious condition. Some people may experience long-lasting postnasal drip because of allergies, and though it’s uncomfortable to live with, its symptoms are manageable. Postnasal drip has been known to cause further health problems like sinus and ear infections, so it’s important to see a doctor if your symptoms last more than 10 days, if you have a fever, or if you have blood and/or colored discharge when you blow your nose.

How can I stop coughing from postnasal drip at night?

One of the symptoms caused by postnasal drip is coughing. Coughing can make it difficult to sleep at night, which put further stress on the body. One of the best ways to ease coughing at night is to take preventive actions throughout the day. Staying hydrated, gargling with salt water, or doing nasal irrigation with a neti pot will help get rid of excess mucus that causes coughing. At night, sleeping with your head slightly elevated can help keep irritants from reaching the back of your throat and nose, which causes coughing. Sleeping with a humidifier next to the bed can help the throat feel less irritated, which could help reduce coughing.

How to cure a postnasal drip cough

Coughing associated with postnasal drip can be caused by different things, like allergies or a cold. If allergies are causing postnasal drip cough, then over-the-counter medications containing antihistamines can help. If postnasal drip cough is caused by a cold, OTC cough medications can help with mucus production and coughing. Many home remedies have proven effective for helping treat coughing as well. Gargling with salt water, using a humidifier, and trying nasal irrigation are just some of the ways people alleviate their symptoms. It’s important to seek medical advice if you aren’t sure what’s causing your postnasal drip cough to make sure you get the right treatment.

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