Glands in your nose and throat continuously make mucus to help keep your sinuses moisturized and fight infection.
Sometimes those glands may make extra mucus that you feel running down the back of your throat.
This is called post-nasal drip.
In this article, first I’ll explain in detail what post-nasal drip is and what causes it.
Then I’ll discuss the best over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications to treat post-nasal drip.
I’ll wrap up with home remedies and when to see a medical provider about post-nasal drip.
OTC Medicine for Post-Nasal Drip
Depending on the cause of your post-nasal drip, the following OTC medications may help manage it.
Decongestants reduce swelling and inflammation in the nasal passages.
This decreases secretions and may help provide short-term relief from post-nasal drip.
However, do not use decongestants for longer than three days.
Doing so can cause a rebound effect and increase mucus production.
Common decongestants available OTC include:
- Oxymetazoline (Afrin, Drixoral)
- Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE)
- Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
Decongestants are not safe for children under six.
If breastfeeding, consult your medical provider before taking a decongestant.
Antihistamines bring relief to post-nasal drip caused by allergies.
Several forms of antihistamines are available, including oral tablets, capsules, liquids, and nasal sprays.
Although some antihistamines require a prescription, OTC options include:
- Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- Brompheniramine (Dimetane)
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- Fexofenadine (Allegra)
- Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)
- Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
Some antihistamines may make you feel drowsy.
For children younger than 12, consult a medical provider about which antihistamine and dosage is appropriate.
Steroid nasal sprays
Steroid nasal sprays, also called corticosteroid nasal sprays, are medicated sinus sprays that help reduce inflammation.
They are beneficial for post-nasal drip caused by hay fever, sinusitis, non-allergy related congestion, and nasal polyps.
These nasal sprays provide longer-needed relief than some other medications.
However, overusing steroid sprays may suppress the immune system.
Steroid nasal sprays available OTC include:
- Fluticasone (Flonase)
- Triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24hr)
- Budesonide (Rhinocort)
Talk to a medical provider about which nasal sprays are safe for children.
Expectorants are medications that thin mucus and make it less sticky by adding water to it.
This makes it easier to cough up the mucus.
Guaifenesin (Mucinex, Robitussin) is the main ingredient in most expectorants and is used to treat productive, wet, phlegmy coughs.
Drink plenty of water while taking expectorants.
Prescription Medicine for Post-Nasal Drip
If over-the-counter medications do not clear up your post-nasal drip, you may need a prescription medication from your medical provider.
If they believe your post-nasal drip is caused by a bacterial infection, they will write a prescription for an antibiotic.
Take the antibiotic as directed and complete the whole course even if your sinuses appear to clear up before you are done.
Not completing the course could allow the infection to come back.
If your medical provider believes you have a viral infection, antibiotics will not help.
Instead, they may order prescription steroids, antihistamines, or decongestants.
The following home remedies may also help clear up post-nasal drip.
Running a humidifier in your home helps keep moisture in the air, helping to prevent your nose and throat from drying out.
It may also help thin mucus.
Read the instructions for your humidifier for information on safe use, correct cleaning, and storage.
Here are some general safety tips:
- Only use cool-mist humidifiers. Warm mist humidifiers can cause accidental burns.
- Place the humidifier several feet from the bed.
- Only run the humidifier to 30-50% humidity. More water in the air encourages mold and mildew growth. If you notice that the surfaces in your home are constantly damp, turn off the humidifier for a while.
- Clean and drain the humidifier daily according to the manufacturer’s directions to prevent bacterial growth.
- Only use distilled water in the humidifier. Tap water has minerals that can clog the unit or cause the spreading of a white dust that can cause breathing problems.
Saline (salt water) sprays help loosen mucus and reduce swelling in the nasal passages.
Most drug stores sell saline sprays OTC in ready-to-use bottles.
Only use one saline bottle per person in your home, as sharing could spread sickness.
Neti pots can help rinse the sinuses.
Some neti pots look like little teapots with long spouts; others look like squeeze bottles.
The Food and Drug Association (FDA) published safety steps for using neti pots:
- Only use distilled, sterile water to rinse your sinuses. If you use tap water, boil it for four minutes and allow it to cool to lukewarm before using.
- Follow the manufacturer instructions.
- After use, clean the neti pot and let it dry.
- Make sure the neti pot is the correct size for the person using it.
Inhaling steam is another option for thinning mucus.
To give yourself a steam treatment:
- Add hot water to a bowl.
- Drape a towel over your head.
- Lean over the bowl (the towel will trap the steam inside) and breathe the steam in.
- Do this 2-4 times a day if possible.
Adding peppermint, chamomile, or menthol essential oil to the water may further help clear nasal passages.
Another option for a steam treatment is to sit in the bathroom while running a hot shower.
What Is Post-Nasal Drip?
Post-nasal drip is excess mucus draining down the back of your throat.
Glands in your nose and throat make 1-2 quarts of mucus daily.
The purpose of this mucus is to:
- Moisten and clean your sinuses
- Moisten the air you breath
- Trap and clean inhaled air
- Fight infection
Usually, you swallow this mucus without noticing.
However, at times you may notice extra mucus in the back of your throat that causes symptoms such as:
- The need to frequently clear your throat
- Feeling mucus drain in your throat
- Changes in your voice
- Irritated and sore throat
- A lump in your throat
- Bad breath
Common Causes of Post-Nasal Drip
Many things can cause post-nasal drip, including:
- Bacterial and viral infections
- Medications that thicken mucus
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- Advanced age
- Cold temperatures
- Spicy foods
- Hormonal changes (such as those during pregnancy)
- Running the house heater during winter
- Irregular cartilage in your sinuses
- Allergy to dairy products
If you notice the secretions thickening and turning green or yellow, you may have a sinus infection.
When to See a Medical Provider
Seek medical attention if you have no relief from post-nasal drip after seven days of home treatment or if you have multiple sinus infections in one year.
Also seek medical attention if you experience:
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Humidifiers and health. (2020).
Is rinsing your sinuses with a neti pot safe? (2021).
Post-nasal drip. (2018).
Treating acute sinusitis. (2018).