Postnasal Drip

Postnasal drip is an annoying complication of various respiratory ailments and generally disappears after the primary ailment clears up. Mucus is a normal product of the nasal passages, but when too much is produced it finds its way into the throat instead of leaving by way of the nostrils. When the condition becomes chronic - for example, from an allergy or prolonged sinusitis - mucus can drip into the bronchial tubes, especially at night, inducing coughing and heavy phlegm. Since postnasal drip is most often a symptom of another ailment, the best approach is to identify and treat the underlying condition.

Causes

Watery postnasal drip along with itching eyes, nose, palate, and throat (or sneezing, congestion, and watery eyes) is usually allergic rhinitis triggered by plant pollen, dust, animal hair, or other allergens. Some people develop postnasal drip when exposed to environmental irritants such as tobacco smoke or airborne contaminants.

If postnasal drip involves thick mucus, a sore throat, runny and congested nose, headache, achiness, and reduced sense of taste and smell, you probably have viral rhinitis–a common cold. Intermittent or continual postnasal drip that becomes very pronounced with humidity and temperature changes or periods of emotional stress may be vasomotor rhinitis. This condition can also be a side effect of some prescription drugs.

Thick yellow or greenish mucus can indicate a bacterial or viral respiratory infection. Whenever thick nasal discharge and postnasal drip are accompanied by fever and congestive pain or pressure in the face, it is probably from sinusitis.

Women who use hormone replacement therapy or estrogenbased birth control drugs can develop postnasal drip as a side effect, and it can be a minor complication of pregnancy.

Diagnostic and Test Procedures

Laboratory tests of the mucus itself can determine if your postnasal drip is due to an allergy, some form of rhinitis, or another condition. Your doctor will use an illuminating instrument to examine your nasal passages, and if complications from sinus problems are indicated, you may need an X-ray or other imaging procedure.

Treatment

Both conventional and alternative treatment will vary depending on whether your symptoms stem from an allergy, a cold, or another condition.

Conventional Medicine

Over-the-counter decongestant drops or sprays can help alleviate postnasal drip by opening nasal passages, but prolonged use may make the problem worse. Your system can become temporarily dependent on them and must adjust after you stop their use.

If you suffer from high blood pressure, you should not take oral decongestants without a doctor's approval. Some antihistamines can make you drowsy; if that happens, look for products with formulas that do not induce sleep.

Alternative Choices

Alternative treatments to clear postnasal drip rely primarily on ways to thin the offending mucus and allay the underlying causes.

Aromatherapy

Inhaling steam can help clear nasal passages. Add essential oils of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), tea tree (Melaleuca spp.), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), or peppermint (Mentha piperita) to the water in a humidifier during the day, and use the essential oil of lavender (Lavandula officinalis) in the evening for a better night's sleep.

Chinese Herbs

Chinese medicine relies on mixtures of traditional herbs brewed in water and drunk at prescribed intervals. The Minor Blue Dragon Combination is recommended to reduce nasal drainage; consult an experienced practitioner for the correct amounts of each herb to use for your condition.

Herbal Therapies

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) may help dry up postnasal drip; make an infusion or tincture with the leaves and stems, or take two 200 mg capsules of the prepared herb three times daily.

Homeopathy

For postnasal drip with thick yellow-green mucus, try Pulsatilla (12c) three or four times a day for two days. For postnasal drip associated with symptoms of a common cold, try Nux vomica (12c) three or four times a day for two days. For other kinds of postnasal drip, a homeopath will prescribe a remedy for your particular symptoms.

At-Home Remedies

Use an over-the-counter cough medicine or a simple saline solution as a nasal spray to help thin postnasal drip mucus.

Drink lots of water (at least six glasses a day) to help keep the mucus as thin as possible.

Humidify the air around you, especially in winter. If your heating system does not have a built-in humidifier, you can buy a self-contained unit at most home-supply centers.

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