What is Catarrh?

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  • Last Modified Date: 10 December 2018
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Catarrh is an unusual name, not used much in present day, to describe excess mucus secretions. It particularly applies to secretions produced in the sinuses and airway. When people describe this mucus as catarrh, they tend to mean there is more mucus present than average. This usually indicates some form of underlying condition is creating the problem.

Occasionally the definition is expanded to discuss any condition of excess mucus production. There are many parts of the body that produce secretions, and when this occurs it could be referred to as a catarrh condition. Even mucus production of the vagina may fall under this heading, though it is often normal. Yet in most cases, definition is limited to sinus and respiratory mucus production that is unusual.

Potential causes, as expressed in the sinuses or respiratory tract are numerous. Mucus could build up as a result of viral illness, like the common cold, or bacterial infection, such as sinusitis. Extra secretions are also present when people have certain types of allergies, especially hay fever. It should be noted that while this condition is often associated with nasal discharge, it could just as easily occur in the respiratory tract, and result from inflammation of the airways.


The symptoms of this condition may be just as varied as its causes. When primarily sinuses are affected, people may have stuffy nose, runny nose, or itchy nose. Extra mucus could also create pressure in the sinuses that may manifest as aching face or head.

Secretions can drip down into the throat, in what is called postnasal drip, and this may result in sore or scratchy throat, and a need to clear the throat often. Extra mucus could place pressure on the ears too, creating ear infection. In the airway, secretion build-up might cause excess coughing, and might ultimately lead to or exacerbate conditions like asthma, bronchitis, or pneumonia.

Guidelines for treating this condition are typically based on underlying causes. For excess stuffy nose, people might take decongestants, antihistamines for hayfever, or sometimes antibiotics. They may also want to relieve some build-up in the nose with certain things like nasal rinses, which may provide some temporary relief. Coughs or ear pain might need greater attention, as these possibly indicate infection.

Some of the things to think about when treating catarrh, and deciding whether doctor’s care is necessary, include degree of discomfort and length the condition has lasted. Secretions that are dark brown or green and/or tinged with blood could suggest more severe inflammatory response and infection. Fever, especially lasting more than a day or two, is also indication that a doctor should be seen. Cough that is so bad it interferes with sleep or any sensation of being unable to breathe necessitates getting medical help right away.

Catarrh is most commonly an annoying complication of infections or allergies. It usually lasts a short while, and it is uncomfortable to experience. There are some people who have rather chronic expression of this condition, often as caused by allergies. Lots of potential treatments exist for those with allergic catarrh, and experimenting with these may help provide freedom from significant congestion.


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Post 1

You're most apt to see the term "catarrh" in books published before about 1950, most before 1930 or so. This is when such terms as "bloody flux" and "la grippe" were in fashion. No one really knows what they mean, but they were commonly used in the days before everyone had TV, Internet access and read medical information for fun.

I don't think I've ever run across the term except in Victorian-era novels, and then it didn't refer to mucus production, but rather having a depressed or gloomy outlook on life. Definitions change over time, I suppose.

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