post nasal drip

The Allergy Kit

What is Post Nasal Drip?


The World Book Medical Encyclopedia lists post nasal drip as, "a condition in which mucus from the back of the nasopharynx drips down the back of the throat. It may be caused by sinusitis or other inflammatory disorders. Symptoms include the intermittent blocking of one or both nostrils and an unpleasant taste caused by the mucus." We would add that the sensation of dripping down the throat is quite annoying, so to make ourselves more comfortable we attempt to clear the nose and throat constantly by swallowing, coughing, spitting, etc. In the process, the throat can become quite sore and irritated.

Normally, we produce mucus every day in our noses and throats; in fact we produce over a quart per day. Microscopic hairs lining the inner surface of the nose and sinus take care of the mucus, brushing it backward to the throat where we swallow it. During the process, dangerous particles such as bacteria and viruses are sent to our stomach where they are destroyed.

Aside from defending us from bacterial and viral threats, mucus performs the important function of moistening the air we breath, and cleaning nasal membranes. This process happens automatically, requiring none of our attention.


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Since post nasal drip is the most common characteristic of rhinitis, we will briefly discuss the condition here.

Approximately 40 million people in the U.S. suffer to one degree or another from rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the lining of the nose caused by an allergen. There is also seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever); perennial rhinitis (year round); and infectious rhinitis.

Symptoms of rhinitis include:

• nasal congestion

• red or watery eyes

• loss of sleep

• headaches

• itching ears or throat

• coughing

• runny nose

• sneezing

increased phlegm and drainage

When phlegm increases we sometimes refer to the condition as “having a cold,” though phlegm can increase for several different reasons. At times, for example, we aren’t sure if the phlegm is coming from an allergy or infection. When phlegm becomes more “prodigious,” it can be characterized in two ways: thick and thin, and this characterization helps us to identify its origin. It helps to visualize these two categories in the form of a chart:

Two Categories of Phlegm
cold temperatures sinus infection - sinusitis
medication (high blood pressure) inhaled irritants
allergies low humidity
foods or spices aging (assoc. with less, thicker secretion
deviated septum (structural) enlarged adnoids
virus heated buildings with little moisture
hormone changes something stuck in nose (children)

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You will notice “sinusitis” listed above in the “thick phlegm” category. From personal experience, you may recall instances where you’ve had nasal discharge consisting with a green or yellow cast; this is typical of sinusitis which is acute. Since it is one of the most common health conditions in the United States, affecting almost 40 million people per year, we felt it important to briefly highlight this condition here.

Sinusitis is a prolonged inflammation of the sinus cavities caused by a cold, allergy, or bacterial infection. Symptoms include: stuffy nose, post nasal drip, sneezing, coughing, headache, bad breath, fever and chills, pain in the teeth and mouth, pain in the face.

We may categorize the most common causes of sinusitis as follows:

• Anatomy - deviated septum, for example

• Lifestyle - choices such as smoking

• Infection - bacterial and viral

• Inflammation - such as that caused by allergy


There are several causes of post nasal drip, so you can’t really discuss the usual treatment options without first deciding the cause. Therefore, it is necessary to undergo an examination by a ear, nose, and throat physician. This could entail various diagnostic procedures, such as lab work or x-rays.

We will list treatments for this disorder according to the causes below:

Post Nasal Drip Cause-Post Nasal Drip Treatment
allergies antihistamines, decongestants
allergies immunotherapy (shots)
allergies nasal sprays
bacterial infection antibiotics
structural abnormality surgery
allergy avoidance of the allergen
cold virus antibiotics for secondary infection

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