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What is the Connection Between Post Nasal Drip and Cough?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Post nasal drip and cough can irritate the throat, disrupt sleep and generally make the sufferer feel miserable. Frequently, post nasal drip is the cause of a persistent cough as mucus drains from the sinuses and adheres to the back of the throat. The cough reflex is the body’s attempt to dislodge this mucus, but more often, it serves only to further irritate the throat.

Mucus is produced by the sinuses to help regulate air moisture and to trap particles such as dust, preventing them from entering the lungs. Normally, relatively small amounts of mucus are produced and go unnoticed. When the sinuses become sufficiently irritated, though, they will overproduce, and the excess can lead to post nasal drip.

When the sinuses overproduce, excess mucus drains from the sinuses, either flowing out of the nostrils or down the back of the throat. Mucus clinging to the back of the throat will cause irritation and discomfort. A sore or scratchy throat is often responsible for coughing. The coughing can cause further irritation and distress, potentially leading to infection.

Irritants in the air such as allergens, dust or smoke can cause the sinuses to increase mucus production. Colds and flu and even spicy foods can produce similar results. Pregnancy and shifts in hormone levels also can cause post nasal drip and cough.

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Combating these problems will depend largely on the source of the irritation, but some treatments work well regardless of the source. Drinking plenty of water will replenish fluids lost to sinus secretions while helping to wash the throat clear of mucus. Gargling with saltwater also is effective for removing mucus and helps to fight infection. Cough drops or hard candies will help to coat the throat and protect it from further irritation.

Dairy products should be avoided by people who are experiencing post nasal drip and cough. Milk will cause the mucus to thicken. Thicker mucus will not drain as easily, increasing sinus pain and pressure and making it considerably more difficult to dislodge from the throat.

If an allergic reaction is responsible for post nasal drip and a cough, an over-the-counter antihistamine will help relieve symptoms. Decongestants also might be helpful to reduce swelling in the sinuses, and of course, avoiding the irritants that are responsible should provide immediate relief. With the reduction of sinus swelling and drainage, the post nasal drip slows and stops, easing the cough as well.

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anon329992
Post 5

For temporary relief, @Starjo had a great suggestion - use two pillows when you sleep and sleep on your back. It works great; for me it is the difference between getting some sleep and coughing all night.

shell4life
Post 4

@orangey03 – I also have allergies that cause post-nasal drip, but an antihistamine wasn't enough for me. I also needed a decongestant.

I had a constant flow of mucus from my nose to my throat. All the antihistamine did was keep me from sneezing and keep mucus from flowing out of my nostrils as much. I still had the post-nasal drip, and I also had the irritating cough.

I got my doctor to prescribe me a combination antihistamine/decongestant. This brought down the swelling inside my nose, so it wasn't as irritated as before. I stopped producing as much mucus, and the dripping ceased.

cloudel
Post 3

Though post-nasal drip and coughing are annoying, I prefer them to the cough I get when my chest is congested. Having a dry cough and sore throat is far better than hacking up your lungs for weeks.

My throat gets more scratchy and dry than sore, though. It is just mildly irritated by me clearing my throat of mucus several times a day.

I like to suck on berry-flavored cough lozenges when the irritation bothers me. They make my throat feel better, and they seem to open up my sinuses a bit, too. Even after the lozenge has disappeared, I have relief that lasts for awhile.

StarJo
Post 2

@orangey03 – There is one thing that I have found that works well for stopping post-nasal drip and the cough it causes. I was having trouble sleeping because of this, too, but now, I can make it through the night with no problems.

I prop my head up on two pillows when I go to bed. This puts my nose and throat at an angle, and this makes the mucus flow on down my throat, rather than getting stuck there and causing a coughing fit.

Don't use pillows that are too fluffy, though. If you prop your neck up too far, you will get cramps the next morning. A couple of flat to semi-flat pillows should work just fine.

orangey03
Post 1

I have post-nasal drip every night because of my allergies, but I cannot seem to pinpoint their source. I wake myself up coughing to avoid being choked by the mucus.

I do take an antihistamine, but it provides limited relief. I even made my dogs start sleeping outside in the utility room, and I vacuumed and dusted to get rid of all the fur they shed while they were inside.

I have tried changing the sheets and comforter, dusting, and mopping, but nothing seems to help. Does anyone have any suggestions for what else I can do to treat this? I am out of options.

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