What Are Postnasal Drip Medications?

Medically Reviewed on 12/8/2020

What is postnasal drip?

Postnasal drip medications help decrease mucus production.
Postnasal drip medications help decrease mucus production.

The inner lining of your nose and throat has several small glands that secrete a sticky fluid called mucus. This mucus moistens the inside of the nose and sinuses (air-filled cavities present in the skull), traps inhaled dust and other particles, helps guard against infections and moistens the air and makes it more comfortable to breathe. You subsequently swallow the mucus produced throughout the day without even realizing it. Postnasal drips refer to the feeling of mucus collecting or dripping inside the throat from the back of your nose (postnasally). This may occur when there is excess mucus formation, when the mucus becomes too thick or when the normal flow of mucus is blocked or hindered. 

Postnasal drip may cause various symptoms that include

  • Feeling that something is dripping or collecting in the throat
  • Need to frequently clear the throat
  • Cough that may get worse at night
  • Feeling as if there is a lump in the throat
  • Frequent swallowing
  • Hoarse or gurgling speech
  • Fever and pain may occur if infection occurs

What causes postnasal drip?

Postnasal drip may be caused by several factors that may lead to excess mucus formation, making mucus too thick or blocking the normal flow of mucus. These include

  • Viral or bacterial infections including colds, flu and sinusitis (sinus infections)
  • Various allergies 
  • Non-allergic or vasomotor rhinitis (expansion or dilation of the blood vessels inside the nose)
  • Foreign body or object stuck inside the nose 
  • Medications such as birth control pills and antihypertensives (medications to treat high blood pressure)
  • Certain foods or spices
  • Cold temperatures 
  • Pregnancy
  • Problems in the structure of the nose, such as deviated nasal septum (the partition between the left and right side of the nose) or nasal polyps (small growths of tissue inside the nose)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (reflux of acidic contents of the stomach into the esophagus)
  • Environmental fumes, dust, pollutants and other chemicals

What are the medications for postnasal drip?

Management of postnasal drip involves home management, over-the-counter medications, prescription medications and surgery in some cases.

  • Home management
    • Steam inhalation
    • Humidifiers
    • Hot showers
    • Consume plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
    • Postural modifications such as sleeping or lying in a propped-up position may help clear mucus. It may also help prevent acid reflux.
    • Nasal irrigation with saline water. Do this only under professional supervision.
    • Avoid the consumption of alcohol or caffeine
    • Weight loss, if there is gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
    • Avoid allergy-causing agents such as certain foods, chemicals and dust
  • Medications
    • Nasal decongestants (to relieve congestion caused by constriction of the blood vessels present in the nose) such as oxymetazoline, phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine
    • Mucus-thinning medicines such as guaifenesin
    • Antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine, loratadine, diphenhydramine, cetirizine, levocetrizine, desloratadine and fexofenadine
    • Steroid nasal sprays such as beclomethasone and triamcinolone
    • Oral steroids
    • Antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection
    • Medications to reduce mucus secretion such as ipratropium
    • Saline nasal spray
    • Drugs to reduce stomach acid secretion (in case of acid reflux) such as antacids, H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors
  • Surgery may be needed in cases where a deviated nasal septum or nasal polyps are present

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Medically Reviewed on 12/8/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference

Harvard Medical School


American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation