Postnasal drip is a potentially annoying and frustrating condition that can sometimes last for days. Doctors can diagnose the condition with a physical examination. Depending on the source of the inflammation that causes the drip, there may not be much in the way of relief that a doctor can offer.
One of the primary functions of the nose is to filter and humidify the air we breathe to make it safe, and to keep the throat and all of the respiratory organs moist. One of the materials used to keep the respiratory system moist is mucus. A healthy individual will produce two quarts of mucus a day, and this mucus is constantly running down the back of the nasal passage to be swallowed and replaced by new fluid. Postnasal drip occurs when mucus is not allowed to pass smoothly down the back of the nasal passage and instead it builds up and slowly drips down the back of the throat.
When the nasal passages get blocked up and prevent mucus from passing into the throat, the symptoms are very noticeable. These symptoms include a stuffy nose; a sore throat; a runny nose, caused by the mucus needing a place to escape so it starts to come out the nose; and a headache. One of the more common symptoms of postnasal drip that differentiates the headache associated with it from a sinus headache is the feeling of mucus slowly dripping down the back of the throat.
Rhinitis is a condition that occurs when the inner lining of the nose is inflamed, causing the nasal passages to be blocked and preventing the mucus from leaving the nasal cavity as it is supposed to. A variety of things ranging from allergies to the common cold can cause rhinitis. Postnasal drip is the direct result of rhinitis.
One of the body's common reactions to postnasal drip is constant swallowing, trying to remove the excess mucus by spitting it out or by coughing. These actions only make the situation worse by causing inflammation and pain in the throat.
If the rhinitis was caused by the series of viruses known as the common cold, the only treatment available is to find relief for the symptoms and wait until the virus runs its course. In some cases postnasal drip may be due to damage done by excessive stomach acids in the oesophagus caused by a condition known as acid reflux. These conditions are normally treated with over-the-counter antacids. In some cases the condition creating the acid reflux may be serious enough to require surgery. Surgery may also be used to reconstruct the nasal cavity if it is determined that a defect in the nasal cavity is preventing the proper draining of mucus.