Postnasal drip (PND), also called upper airway cough syndrome, happens when there is excessive mucus produced by the nasal mucosa. As a result, the excess mucus builds up in the throat or the back of the nose.
Post nasal drip happens when mucus from the nasal passages and sinuses drain into the throat. It can lead to laryngitis, bad breath, cough, sore throat, voice hoarseness and wheezing.
The most common causes of post nasal drip are sinusitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), rhinitis or by a problem with swallowing such as esophageal motility disorder. Some experts say, however, that the mucus dripping down the back of the throat from the nasal cavity is a normal thing in the body, particularly in healthy individuals.
The glands in the nasal area and the throat continuously produce mucus in order to clean and moisten the nasal membranes. The mucus also helps clear inhaled particles and traps foreign bodies. However, when the mucus builds up in the throat, it can be caused by very think secretions.
What causes abnormal secretions?
Secretions are thick – When there is an increase in thick secretions, particularly when there is dryness from heating systems during the winter, it could lead to post nasal drip. Thick secretions may also come from allergic reactions to food and others. Sometimes, when thin secretions turn into thick ones with yellowish or green color, it’s usually caused by bacterial infections.
Thin secretions – When thin secretions increase, it might be due to the presence of allergies, colds, flu, certain food, pregnancy, hormonal changes and cold temperatures. Some drugs may also increase the secretions.
How Is The Throat And Other Parts Affected By Post Nasal Drip
Usually, post nasal drip may cause soreness and irritation of the throat. Though there is no infection, the parts of the throat like the tonsils and other tissues may become inflamed. This may lead to pain and discomfort, even have a feeling of a lump is in the throat. However, treating post-nasal drip can remove these symptoms.
If the mucus starts to build up in the throat, it can block the voice box, the epiglottis, and the bronchi. This can affect swallowing. There is the difficulty in swallowing, particularly at night, when the throat muscles are not that strong.
A chronic Cough
If too much mucus builds up in the throat, there may be a feeling of the need to cough to clear it out. As a result, it can cause a cough that can persist for long periods. If it’s left untreated, it can cause a chronic cough. It can interrupt sleep, lead to chest pains, make it hard to concentrate on school and work, and can lead to problems with eating.
Ear and Sinus Infections
Postnasal drip can block the Eustachian tube, the tube connecting the nose to the ears to maintain equal air pressure in the ears. If it becomes blocked, it can lead to ear infections, particularly if mucus is the cause of the blockage.
Difficulty of breathing
One of the most annoying and serious complications of post nasal drip is the difficulty of breathing. When there is too much mucus production, it can cause the vocal cords to close when breathing, which can lead to symptoms such as problems with breathing and wheezing.
However, sometimes, post nasal drip can also be symptoms of throat cancer. It may cause irritation in the throat, just like how alcohol and cigarette smoking affects the throat. As a result, it can also trigger genetic changes in the cell’s DNA, leading to the formation of cancer.
Throat cancer occurs when there is a chronic irritation of the cells of the throat lining. This can be caused by too much smoking, excessive alcohol intake and in rare cases, post nasal drip. These cause irritation and inflammation, which can trigger the mutation of the cells into cancerous ones.
Treating post nasal drip early is important. A correct diagnosis requires a comprehensive and detailed ear, nose and throat exam. Detecting the underlying problem is important to initiate the needed treatment. If the underlying cause is a bacterial infection, antibiotics are used to treat the infection. If the cause is an allergic reaction, the doctor can recommend the use of antihistamines to ease the allergy.
General measures to allow the mucus to pass more easily can be recommended, especially if the underlying cause can’t be determined. Many people, particularly older adults, can drink more fluids to thin out the secretions, make them easier to cough out or clear out.
Saline nasal sprays, on the other hand, can moisten the nasal passages and decrease the symptoms of post nasal drip. If all measures have failed, the doctor can recommend anti-inflammatory medicines.