Introducing: Ask a Doctor
At UTHSC ENT, we understand that patients need clear, helpful answers to their questions. We also know that a flood of new information can be overwhelming.
That’s why our department’s introducing Ask a Doctor: an ongoing series of posts that tackle Frequently Asked Questions about common issues. We hope these articles give you a better understanding of your situation and an easy path to treatment.
Today, we highlight post-nasal drainage.
Prepared by: Robert Frederick
Reviewed by: Dr. Sanjeet Rangarajan
What is Post-Nasal Drainage?
The back of your nose is connected to your throat in an area called the nasopharynx. The tissue lining the inside of your nose and your nasopharynx secrete mucus every day in order to moisturize the area, humidify inhaled air, and even trap tiny particles that don’t belong in your nose and throat.
When everything is running smoothly, your body is able to do all this without you noticing. But, when you encounter things that disturb the status quo, your body sometimes overreacts and produces more mucus than needed.
This is what is often called “post-nasal drainage,” an excess of mucus production in your nose and throat.
What are its causes and symptoms?
Post-nasal drainage is caused by your body’s overreaction, producing more mucus than you need in response to certain things such as infection, seasonal allergies, chemical irritants in the air, or certain drugs.
One major symptom: chronic cough (a cough which has been present for at least 8 weeks). Other key symptoms include: a tickling sensation or a constant drip feeling in the back of your throat causing excessive throat clearing, nasal congestion, a runny nose, and even a hoarse voice.
Is post-nasal drainage an emergency?
Thankfully, no! But you may obtain relief by consulting with an otolaryngologist from our team. Many people seek medical help for this condition due to the effects it may have on their work and activities.
How will my doctor diagnose post-nasal drainage?
Although common, it can be difficult to properly diagnose. Many other conditions can present with similar symptoms. A physician must obtain the entire clinical picture in order to diagnose this issue.
This means that your doctor will likely conduct a complete history and physical exam with you and may even use a specialized camera that helps them look inside your nose and throat. Sometimes, special scans of your sinuses or upper respiratory tract (CT or MRI scans) may be needed to further help establish the diagnosis.
A good response to a medicine your doctor prescribes is also important in establishing a diagnosis.
Could it be something else?
Although post-nasal drainage is the most common cause of chronic cough, many other diseases may look similar.
The next most common causes of chronic cough are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and asthma, but the list of potential diseases is extensive. Your doctor may ask some questions about your past medical history, and they may perform tests to rule them out.
What are my treatment options?
The first-choice treatment to prevent additional excess mucus production is intranasal steroids (e.g. fluticasone/Flonase). Intranasal steroids are not the same as other steroid medications you may have heard of; they only act in your nose and throat and do not affect the rest of your body.
Your doctor may also prescribe you antihistamines (e.g. Claritin, Zyrtec) in order to help treat and reduce any physical symptoms you have (sneezing and runny nose). At UTHSC, we strive to create a personalized treatment plan for every unique patient we meet.
How can our Dream Team help?
UTHSC ENT’s Dream Team provides world class treatment in your hometown, and we’d love to hear from you!
If you’d like to talk to a specialist about your post-nasal drainage, give us a call!