Sinus drainage is constantly happening in your body. This is normal; your sinuses need to drain all the mucus that they produce. (Your sinuses create and drain up to a quart of mucus per day!) Mucus coats the inside of the sinus cavity and traps infectious agents like bacteria, and then it mixes with saliva and you swallow it. This is an ongoing, automatic process, and normally you don’t notice this drainage.
But sometimes, it does become noticeable. When the mucus is thicker than normal or you produce particularly large amounts of it, it may come out the nostril as a runny nose, or you may feel it as it drains into the throat. This is called post-nasal drip, and it can cause a cough.
Post-nasal drip can happen as a result of many medical conditions, including:
- a crooked “wall” between the nostrils (called a deviated septum)
- sinus infection, causing sinusitis or sinus inflammation
- gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD
Spicy food, cold and dry air, fumes or smoke, and other factors can also cause mucus to run out of the sinuses faster than normal.
When you produce excess mucus and it goes down your throat, making you feel as though you constantly have to clear mucus from your throat, that’s post-nasal drip.
Post-nasal drip and coughing
This excess mucus in the throat can cause unpleasant symptoms — including coughing. The mucus triggers the body’s natural coughing reflex, and this is called upper airway cough syndrome (UACS). A hoarse voice and a sore throat are other symptoms that may appear at the same time.
If you wind-up with post-nasal drip and a cough, you may benefit from seeing a doctor, depending on how severe your symptoms are and how long they last. The treatment your doctor gives you will depend on what causes the post-nasal drip, and can include:,
- antibiotics, if the cause is bacterial infection.
- antihistamines, decongestants and other medicines, where appropriate.
- avoiding the source of any allergies that may be causing post-nasal drip.
- elevating the head during sleep and changing eating habits, if you have GERD.
Should I see a doctor?
Sinus drainage accompanied by coughing is very irritating, but it may go away on its own. If it does not, if it stays around for weeks, this may be a sign of a persistent condition that needs medical attention. Also, if you bring up phlegm or blood, if you can’t sleep because of the symptoms, or it’s affecting your studies or job, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. The doctor will be able to figure out the precise cause of your post-nasal drip and UACS, and to recommend an effective treatment.