Treating Postnasal Drip

By Howard LeWine, M.D.
Content provided by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School


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Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing at Harvard Health Publications. He is recognized as an outstanding clinician and teacher and is a recipient of the Internal Medicine Teacher of the Year award at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine continues to practice Internal Medicine; most recently he became a hospitalist after practicing primary care for over 20 years.

What medication can I take to stop postnasal drip?


Postnasal drip is a runny nose that drips down your throat rather than through your nostrils. Similar to any runny nose, you need to consider the underlying cause and how long it has been a problem.

There is a long list of problems that can cause postnasal drip. Common causes include:

  • A cold

  • Allergies

  • Dry air

  • Irritants in the air such as cigarette smoke and aerosol sprays

  • Spicy food

Postnasal drip also occurs if thick mucus accumulates in the back of the nose. So, one of the first approaches is to use a saline nose spray to loosen the mucus. In addition, fill a basin with hot water and inhale the air just above the surface. Consider using a humidifier at night.

Nasal irrigation is a little more complicated but it is very effective in clearing the thick mucus.

  1. Mix one teaspoon of pure salt (no additives) in 8 ounces of warm water. Do not use hot water. (If there is any chance your water might be contaminated, boil the water first. Let the water cool before the next step.)

  2. Draw the salt-water mixture into a syringe. (You can get one at your local drugstore. One type has a bulb shape. The other looks like something you'd see in a doctor's office. Neither one has a needle.)

  3. Insert the tip of the syringe in one nostril. Lean over the sink. Push gently if this is your first time trying this. The solution may drain from either nostril or from your mouth. Repeat two or three times per day.

Decongestants may help. If you use a nasal decongestant, limit its use to only a few days. Using one too often can make postnasal drip worse. Oral decongestants such as pseudoephedrine work for some people.

The problem with decongestants is they can make mucus thicker, just what you want to avoid. Each person responds differently. You will need to find which helps you more — saline spray, irrigation, a little decongestant or a combination.

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