chronic cough

Your Chronic Cough: Is it Post Nasal Drip?

Post nasal drip is brought on by a variety things; chronic sinus issues, respiratory illnesses, nasal irritation (like fume inhalation), and swallowing or throat muscles disorders (such as dysphagia or issues brought on by gastroesophageal reflux disorder). Even though it is itself a symptom, it still has symptoms of its own—one of which includes chronic coughing. Here is how to know if your chronic cough is just a result of post nasal drip or something more serious. 

What is Post Nasal Drip?

The purpose of the mucus produced in the nose, sinuses, and throat is to keep those passages clean by moving dust and infection out and providing moisture to the nasal tissue. Normally, you don’t notice this happening. When mucus develops an abnormal consistency, too thin or too thick, it becomes more obvious. Respiratory illnesses can make thinner mucus, as the mucus glands are thrown into high gear to clear pathogens in the area. Hormonal changes (pregnant women often experience enhanced mucus glands), medications, cold air, hot food, and other influences may also thin out mucus, creating the sensation of a constant dripping in the back of the throat. 

Conversely, mucus may become too thick; congestion from being sick and dairy product allergies may cause congestion with a thick yellow or green mucus. Additionally, the dry air of winter months combined with heating units that tends to dry out indoor air can leave the nose and sinuses dried out with thicker mucus to compensate. This can cause a sensation of a constant lump or accumulation in the throat. Problems with swallowing or the throat muscles can lead to or enhance already present post nasal drip as the throat fails to adequately get rid of food particles and mucus that build up. Small children may experience a thick post nasal drip if they have lodged a foreign object in the nasal cavities. Allergies, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and medication are the most common culprits. 

Post Nasal Drip and Coughing

Post nasal drip causes symptoms beyond just these sensations. You may notice constant throat clearing in an attempt to move phlegm out. The throat may become irritated, especially as tissues and the tonsils become swollen and inflamed. Bad breath and difficulty breathing may also be evident. 

Chronic coughing, however, is one of the more likely symptoms. The dripping mucus tickles and irritates, causing hoarseness, the aforementioned throat clearing, and a nearly constant cough. Additionally, since post nasal drip often appears because of other issues, you may notice itchy or watery eyes, headaches, or an itchy nose in tandem with post nasal drip. 

When to be Concerned

For the most part, post nasal drip and the coughing that comes along with it is nothing to worry about. It can be irritating, but over the counter medications are often sufficient to manage it. Endoscopic nasal surgery may be an option for those who find antihistamines and decongestants are not sufficient. 

But sometimes—even if you do have post nasal drip—your cough can be indicative of something more serious. Talk to a doctor if your cough is extremely persistent or if you spit up mucus with a bloody hue. Other signs that it might be time to talk to a specialist include a change in your voice beyond mild hoarseness, extreme congestion, or frequent and recurrent infections.

Last Updated: August 31, 2016