Drooling might be a common way to illustrate that someone is far away in dreamland, but if you consistently dribble when you slumber, it could actually point to a health issue.
It seems innocent enough, and you probably forget about it once you wipe down your pillow, but if it comes with other symptoms, you could be dealing with an infection, allergic reaction or even a digestive condition.
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Here are seven reasons you're drooling when you sleep, and what you can do about it:
1. You Have a Nasal Obstruction
Think about the last time you had a cold or the flu with a stuffy nose: It was probably challenging to breathe through your nostrils, so inhaling and exhaling through your mouth was easier.
When your nose is plugged or blocked, your mouth can stay open while you sleep, which literally makes you drool, says Shawn Nasseri, MD, an ear, nose and throat surgeon.
Mucus might be the culprit, but things like nasal swelling or any sort of blockage — like a deviated septum, nasal polyp or enlarged adenoids — can cause mouth-breathing or make it worse, Dr. Nasseri says.
Fix it: If you're stuffed up, he recommends using a gentle saline spray to help clear your nose.
If you think you might have an anatomical obstruction (something more permanent blocking the airflow in your nose), talk to your doctor about appropriate treatments.
2. It's Your Allergies
Whether you're sensitive to tree pollen or dust mites, allergies are no joke for those who battle them. If your allergies are acting up, Dr. Nasseri says it's common to have excessive saliva and nasal congestion throughout the day, and particularly at night. You might also have a dry cough, shortness of breath or itchy, watery eyes, per the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).
"When we are going to sleep, nasal congestion tends to feel worse due to an increase in blood flow to our nose and head," he says. And when you try to fall asleep with a clogged nose, you tend to breathe from the mouth, making it easy for drool to escape.
Fix it: Dr. Nasseri suggests the following:
- Sleep with your head elevated
- Run a humidifier at night to open up the nasal passages and provide moisture within the nose
- Use a saline spray before bed to clear your nose
Plus, check out 7 natural remedies for allergies to help you better manage your symptoms.
3. You've Got an Infection
When you have a sinus infection or strep throat, your nervous system causes swelling of your throat, making it harder to swallow your saliva. As a result, Dr. Nasseri says, people breathe through their mouths, creating more saliva and, ultimately, drool.
Other symptoms of a sinus infection, per the ACAAI, are:
- Headache or facial pain (sometimes: teeth pain)
- Green nasal discharge
- Post-nasal drip
- Bad breath
Other symptoms of strep throat, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include:
- Sore throat and pain when you swallow
- Red, swollen tonsils
- Swollen neck
Other viral throat infections — such as mononucleosis, per the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai — can also lead to similar symptoms as strep, including a sore throat and fever.
Fix it: Make an appointment with your doctor, who can make a diagnosis and determine whether you need antibiotics. In the meantime, Dr. Nasseri suggests drinking plenty of fluids and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever to manage any discomfort.
4. You Have GERD
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes acid reflux because the esophagus doesn't work correctly and allows stomach acid to creep backward. Sometimes this acid can reach your throat, and your body reacts to the irritation by producing an abundance of saliva, Dr. Nasseri says.
Some people with GERD have heartburn, but that's not always the case. Other symptoms of the condition, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, include:
- Pain or difficulty when swallowing, or the feeling that food is stuck in your throat
- Bad breath
- Chronic sore throat or throat irritation
- Gum inflammation
- Tooth enamel erosion
- A hoarse voice in the morning
Fix it: “As a solution, try altering your sleeping position to your left side to reduce acid reflux,” Dr. Nasseri suggests. You can also make dietary changes and lifestyle tweaks to cope with acid reflux, including avoiding eating for at least a couple hours before bed, he adds.
5. It's Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where you stop breathing several times — possibly even hundreds of times — each night, according to the Mayo Clinic. You probably don't wake up, but your brain registers the stop-and-start.
"Apnea can block your airways while you sleep, causing your brain to forget to send signals to your throat and mouth muscles to breathe," Dr. Nasseri says. "If these signals are blocked, it can cause excessive saliva production, which results in drooling."
Beyond that, signs of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Morning headaches
- Having trouble staying asleep
- Feeling very sleepy during the day
Fix it: There are various degrees of severity with sleep apnea, from minor to extreme, but no matter what, you should see a doctor about it ASAP. Sleep apnea is often treated with a CPAP machine, which keeps your airways open as you sleep, per the Cleveland Clinic. In the meantime, try not to sleep on your back to see if the drooling improves.
6. It's a Side Effect of Your Medication
Certain medications like antipsychotics can increase saliva production and make it difficult to swallow, resulting in drooling, Dr. Nasseri says.
Fix it: If you’ve recently started taking a new medication and you notice more liquid on your pillow, discuss it with your doctor to see if switching your meds might be an option.
7. You’re Getting Older
Drooling can be a normal part of the aging process, says Andrew Ordon, MD, an otolaryngologist and plastic surgeon. Sometimes poor competency of the lips and mouth muscles and possibly loss of volume of the lips and around the mouth from age or dentures causes drooling.
"Facial tone is not the same as we get older, and loss of facial tone makes it more difficult to control the secretions," Dr. Ordon says.
Fix it: The simplest fix has to do with gravity: Sleeping on your back rather than your stomach or side may keep the drool from slipping out.
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Allergy Symptoms"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Sinus Infection"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Strep Throat: All You Need to Know"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Overview: Symptoms of GERD"
- Cleveland Clinic: "CPAP Machine"
- Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai: "Drooling"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.