What Causes Sinus Drainage?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2019
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One of the main causes of sinus drainage is simply being alive. Every day the human body produces several liters of sinus fluid and mucus, and all of that natural liquid must go somewhere. In the case of sinus drainage, fluid from the nasal passages and sinuses drains into the back of the throat, where it is swallowed several times a minute. Eventually, most normal drainage is eliminated through the kidneys as part of a person's urine. Abnormal types of drainage, however, can be caused by factors such as bacterial infections, viral infections, allergens, acid reflux disease, irritating fumes or dehydration.

Some people may experience sinus drainage in the form of a runny nose after eating spicy foods or inhaling an irritating odor. Mucus-producing glands in the nasal area react to such irritants by increasing their production of a watery liquid similar to saliva in texture. By flooding the affected area, the body hopes to wash away the irritants and reduce the inflammation they trigger. This type of drainage is generally thin and clear, and flows freely down the back of the throat or out of the nasal passages. Once the irritant is gone, the drainage generally returns to normal.


Another cause of abnormal sinus drainage can be a bacterial or viral infection, most likely a cold or flu. The amount of infected sinus fluid overwhelms the natural drainage system, so it stagnates in the nasal passages and becomes thicker. This thicker mucus trapped in a dark, moist environment is an ideal feeding ground for bacteria, which in turn causes discoloration and a foul odor. The infected mucus slowly drains into the throat and upper chest, creating even more opportunities for bacterial or viral growth. Cold and flu medications often contain an ingredient which interacts with mucus chemically and thins it for improved drainage. Sinus medications also attempt to reduce the swelling of sinus passages, which in turn creates better drainage.

Sometimes the body reacts to dehydration by limiting the amount of available fluid to mucus-producing glands. If a person has gone several hours without replenishing his or her water levels, the result could be abnormal sinus drainage. Some people may associate this nasal drip with the onset of a cold or allergy, but in reality it is a signal to rehydrate. Proper hydration with fluids other than alcohol or caffeinated beverages should help reduce this kind of drainage.

Allergens such as dust and pollen can also trigger abnormal sinus drainage. The nasal passages become irritated or inflamed in reaction to a known allergen, then begin to swell. The body's natural reaction is to produce more mucus in order to flush out the irritant. Ordinarily, this excess fluid would drain into the throat for elimination, but the throat often swells during an allergic reaction. The excess fluid becomes thicker and discolored by the allergens, causing an unpleasant sensation of fullness in the sinus cavities. This form of sinus infection, or sinusitis, can trigger a painful sinus headache and either excessive sneezing or a runny nose. Allergy medications containing antihistamines may be more effective than decongestants for this type of allergy-induced sinus drainage.

Experts suggest that maintaining proper hydration and avoiding exposure to known allergens can reduce the severity and duration of sinus drainage. Sufferers should also know the difference between drainage triggered by infections and that triggered by allergens or irritants. Decongestant medications work best on infection-based drainage, while antihistamines may produce better results with allergy-based incidents.


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Post 11

Does anyone have thirst with a runny nose? I have allergy reactions, but also thirst and was wondering whether make up of the runny fluid was naturally salty triggering a thirst response.

Post 10

I never thought this was caused from COPD, that I recently was believed to have. Now, I never have been, nor ever was a smoker of anything. I have lived around smoking my entire 43 years of my life, but, I also worked my life in warehouses, around machines and in pesticides and household cleaning products. I just found out this is the possible reason I now have copd/asthma.

I truly don't believe there is no other answer for us all. We breathed bad, "clean" air. We all have it. We are all going to die of something.

Post 9

I want to share my information since it was on a site like this I found the solution to my drainage problem during a bad cold last November.

I read that an ingredient found on Contact Cold+Flu night time and hydrocodone mix will help to stop the drainage. A spray with both ingredients it's sold but it was a Sunday afternoon when I found out.

I had hydrocodone since I had a kidney stone a while back an didn't use them all. My husband went to the store and got me the Contact. I got so much relief with the mix. I had another cold now and I'm doing the same thing plus Emergen-C to boost my system.

Post 8

Thank you very much for this education on this very worrisome problem that affect majority of people in my area.

It is a common thing with the onset of the Harmattan (cold and dry season) in northern Nigeria to find almost everyone sneezing and having runny noses. Now I know better and will definite stop worrying and do the write remedy. Thanks a million for the expert advice. I will spread the word.

Post 7

What an illuminating article. I am not a science student, but this is one area of health that is lest understood. No doctor has ever given me such insight.

I suffer from sinusitis and have been with this ailment for close to two decades now. I have even had two surgeries in connection with this. I only halt further surgery following an advice i received from a late sister that the series of surgeries have begun to affect my speech. Please keep it up. I learned a great new thing today. --Denis U.

Post 5

I certainly wouldn't want to measure the yuck! The sickest I've ever been was caused by sinus drainage straight to the stomach which made me hurl everything until I found a way to stop the excess drainage. My son says I diagnose anyone with a sore throat as having sinus drainage.

Great article, by the way. I agree with everything you said, from experience. --Ms. Jake

Post 4

Excellent article! Thank you!

Post 3

@grumpyguppy: That can definitely be a reason. Throat sinus drainage is the culprit behind many doctors’ visits for sore throats.

I have been the victim of a sore throat due to so much sinus drainage myself. When we have an increased amount of mucus and possible bacteria, it irritates the throat when swallowed. I sometimes use a vaporizer in my room and it seems to help some.

Our mothers always told us to “gargle with warm salty water”. They were right. That is one of the best cures for a sore throat. If the problem continues or you have severe sinus drainage, you should see your doctor and consider prescription medications.

Post 2

I get sore throats on a fairly regular basis. I also have terrible sinus problems. I have had sinus surgery twice. Could my sore throats be due to sinus drainage going down my throat?

Post 1

Wow! That was amazing information! I had no idea that we produced that much drainage. Great article!

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