What causes postnasal drip and how can I treat it?


Postnasal drip occurs because of excess mucus in the back of the nose and throat that can solidify in layers and cause headaches. It can be acute, lasting for a short period of time after a cold or flu, or chronic, lasting for a longer period of time. Chronic postnasal drip can be caused by allergies to food or to something in the home, or by the shape of the septum.

In terms of herbal remedies, I recommend using inhalants, such as eucalyptus oil, to help alleviate postnasal drip. Add a few drops of pure oil to about a quart of water in a large stainless steel pot, bring to a boil, cover head and pot, and inhale.

If you are experiencing chronic postnasal drip, begin by removing wheat and dairy from your diet, since such a large percentage of people are allergic to these foods. See if you notice a difference after a month. You can also have a physician give you an IgE or IgG food allergy test. The IgE tests for allergies cause an immediate reaction, whereas the IgG tests for allergies are delayed up to 72 hours. To eliminate potential allergens from your home, vacuum your pillows, mattress, and blanket daily, and keep pets out of the bedroom at all times.

–Ellen Kamhi, PhD, RN, co-owner, Natural Alternative Health, Education, and Multimedia Services, Oyster Bay, New York

Family medicine physician

Allergies, upper respiratory infections like colds, and bacterial infections such as bacterial sinus infections, are possible causes of postnasal drip. Saline nasal irrigation, or SNI, is a technique originating from Ayurvedic medicine that uses liquid or spray saline solution and is a reasonable adjunctive care to chronic sinus symptoms, one of which is postnasal drip. This treatment can be found over the counter at most pharmacies and used at home.

Squeeze or pour a saline solution into one nostril to achieve nasal irrigation. The solution drains through your nose and throat, or you can blow it out the other nostril. The goal is to gently rinse the mucosal surface with saline.

Squeeze bottles, which use positive pressure, can push liquid or spray into the nostril. Neti pots, or nasal cups, are gravity based, which means they work when tipped upside down. Prepare a2 percent saline solution (¼ teaspoon baking soda, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1 cup warm water) in the pot. Then tip head back, tip the pot up, and insert into nostril. The solution will pour into the nostril and then run out the other side. Wash nasal pot after the irrigation and mix a new solution when you next irrigate your nose.

–David Rabago, MD, assistant professor of family medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Naturopathic doctor

Postnasal drip, or Rhinitis, is congestion running down the pharynx, or a part of the throat. Symptoms include excessive throat clearing and chronic sore throat. The most effective at-home treatment is irrigation with salt water. If irrigation does not work, then investigate the possible causes.

It is a good idea to see a naturopath who will focus on helping you find this cause before choosing a treatment. Allergies, chronic sinus infection, and irritants such as pollution are possibilities. There are various treatments to choose from, including medication, herbs, and surgery, which you should choose based on the specific cause. If allergies are leading to your postnasal drip, surgery will not work. Instead, you will want to try supplementing with bromelain (an enzyme supplement), vitamin C, vitamin A, and zinc.

The cause can also be anatomical, where the sinus is shaped in a way that traps bacteria. In this case, surgery works about 50 percent of the time, but it is always best to get multiple opinions before opting for expensive and invasive surgery. An ear, nose, and throat specialist will be able to determine if postnasal drip is caused by an infection, such as a sinus infection, and will often prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and alleviate postnasal drip.

–Steve Parcell, ND, co-owner, NatureMed Clinic, Boulder, Colorado

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