Everyone knows how miserable it is to be sick or to suffer through an intense allergy season: your eyes may water and feel itchy or puffy, areas of your face may feel puffy or sore from pressurized sinuses… and then there is that constant drip in the back of your throat, or the sensation that there is a fluid accumulating back there, triggering you to try repeatedly to swallow and get rid of it. That feeling in the back of your throat, whether a drip or an accumulation, is called post-nasal drip. Sinus sufferers may know from experience that it doesn’t always take allergies or a cold to bring about a post-nasal drip.
Simply going out in the cold or eating hot or spicy food can trigger post-nasal drip. Certain medications, such as birth control pills and cholesterol-lowering medication, can also cause this condition. It may signify normal body changes, such as fluctuating hormone levels due to pregnancy or another change in the body. It can also occur when the air is simply too dry.
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Post-nasal drip may be a warning of other problems. It’s not a bad idea to sneak a peek after blowing your nose – or your child’s; green or yellow snot that persists longer than the normal length of time for a cold may indicate the presence of a sinus infection. Parents should also be aware that young children have a tendency to stick small objects up their noses; if one side of the child’s nose is running incessantly, the child may have an object stuck in their nose.
Although it seems that post-nasal drip is always associated with a problem, rest assured that isn’t the case. It’s perfectly natural for the human body to produce between one and two quarts of mucus a day. The purpose of all that mucus is to cleanse, keep the inside of the nose moist along with the air that passes through it, prevent large particles in the air from entering the lungs, and help fight infection. As disgusting as it may seem, you usually swallow the majority of this mucus without even realizing it.
When your symptoms of post-nasal drip are merely the result of normal body operations, and do not signify more serious problems, there are a few ways to decrease your discomfort. Basically, you want to encourage the mucus to flow faster so that it won’t collect in your throat. Drinking more fluids can do this if you’ve become slightly dehydrated; drinking hot tea also encourages the mucus to flow. Hot compresses over the sinuses – those silly-looking eye masks – help, as well. A technique called Pulsatile Nasal Irrigation, which irrigates the nasal passages with a saline solution, can also be very effective in eliminating post-nasal drip; however, this technique should only be used according to your doctor’s instructions.