With frequent coughing, nasal congestion, and the urge to expel mucus, you’ve probably often wondered, “How long does postnasal drip last?” There are many postnasal drip causes, and the symptoms of many nasal passage and throat infections or irritants are closely linked. But, what is postnasal drip?
Postnasal drip occurs when excessive, thick mucus is produced and gathers into the back of the throat. This may lead to a cough, sore throat, or nasal congestion.
Our body continually produces mucus secretions to fight infection, flush out harmful pathogens, and maintain the inner moisture of the various passages and cavities of our head and neck. Without any stimulation, our body naturally secretes this mucus with no issues.
What Causes Postnasal Drip?
Now that we understand what post nasal drip is, we will examine the causes of this condition. So, exactly what is postnasal drip caused by?
The common conditions and underlying causes that trigger postnasal drip include the following:
- Common colds
- Gastric reflux
- Sinusitis or a sinus infection that causes the sinus cavities to become inflamed
- An allergic reaction (also known as allergic postnasal drip)
- Foods that stimulate excess mucus production, such as spicy foods and dairy products
- Fluctuating weather patterns, dry air, or extremely cold temperatures
- Heated environments during the winter months
- An obstruction within the nasal passages, such as a small foreign object
- Certain medications, such as those for blood pressure and birth control
- Hormone level changes
- Environmental irritants such as smoke, perfumes and colognes, and fumes from cleaning products and chemicals
- A deviated septum condition, as it may obstruct the nasal passage walls, which may be slanted or collapsed
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Symptoms of Postnasal Drip
Postnasal drip symptoms can vary from mild to severe and may reoccur during the time of the condition. A persistent cough may come and go and may worsen each time it appears.
The symptoms of postnasal drip include:
- Constant coughing
- Frequent clearing of throat
- A runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- The urge to expel mucus through the mouth or nose
- A sore throat
- The need to swallow constantly
- Extreme fatigue
- The sensation of a lump in back of throat
- Bad breath
- Dry mouth
How Long Does Postnasal Drip Last?
Once the irritating and agonizing symptoms appear, they seem to linger on for a while. So, how long does postnasal drip last? It all depends on the individual, their current health status, and what treatment they are following. However, a postnasal drip usually lasts for at least several days.
Factors affecting the length of time may include the originating cause of the mucus collection, which also influences the amount produced. Furthermore, chronic postnasal drip conditions may also result in damaging effects if left untreated.
With a postnasal drip condition as a result of allergies, the amount of exposure to pollen as well as the length of time that it is in the air may determine how long the condition lasts. That said, many cases of postnasal drip may last throughout the entire pollen season.
Postnasal drip with a viral or bacterial infection, such as the common cold or flu, usually runs the length of the illness.
The symptoms of a postnasal drip accompanying pregnancy, as a side effect of medication or from hormonal changes, may be experienced until the cause is resolved.
But in cases where the postnasal drip occurs due to a separated septum, the symptoms may persist continuously until the septum is adjusted or straightened.
Postnasal Drip Complications
With postnasal drip, the mucus usually thickens and gathers on the walls of the nose and throat. This may lead to difficulty breathing and swallowing.
The mucus buildup may also cause one to try to get rid of the mucus by spitting or swallowing it. Doing this constantly may overwork the throat and bronchial muscles, resulting in damage or fatigue. These muscles may not be able to function properly if affected.
Also, a miscorrelation of the throat and bronchial muscles with the attached nerves may cause a laryngeal spasm to occur. And, such a spasm may cut off the ability to breathe.
When to Seek Medical Attention
A postnasal drip caused by a separated septum may require surgical removal or treatment of the septum.
If you are trying to treat the symptoms of postnasal drip for several days and there is no improvement, seek medical attention. It may be the result of an underlying health condition such as GERD or an obstruction in the airway.
You should speak to your doctor if:
- The postnasal drip continues for 10 or more days
- Yellow or green nasal discharge or mucus is present
- You have a fever
- Bloody discharge or mucus is present
- The postnasal drip has a foul odor when discharged
- You are experiencing severe sinus pain
Postnasal drip may cause an overwhelming feeling of pain, fatigue, and general uneasiness. It is a common symptom of the common cold, the flu, allergies, and gastric reflux conditions.
How long the postnasal drip will last highly depends on the underlying cause, as well as the way it affects the nasal and airway passages.
Since our bodies constantly produce mucus to keep the airways, nose, and pharynx moist and to trap harmful pathogens, the risk for post-nasal drip is high. If the mucus builds up in the back of the throat and thickens, breathing ability decreases as the muscles working to clear the mucus weaken.
Home treatment of postnasal drip may be possible. However, medical attention is required with signs of a serious infection.
Iliades, C., “The Basics of Post-Nasal Drip,” Everyday Health, February 21, 2013; https://www.everydayhealth.com/cold-flu/post-nasal-drip.aspx, last accessed October 3, 2017.
Katz, H., “HOW TO STOP POST NASAL DRIP: SYMPTOMS & TREATMENT,” Therabreath; http://www.therabreath.com/how-to-stop-post-nasal-drip.html, last accessed October 3, 2017.