Complications From Post Nasal Drip

Woman with runny nose in bed
Post nasal drip can cause a chronic cough, trouble breathing and sore throat (Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)

A fluid called mucus is produced by the nose to help warm and clean the air that is inhaled. This fluid is then swallowed in order to clean and moisten the back of throat. If there is excessive mucus production, or the mucus becomes thicker than normal, the symptoms of post nasal drip may appear. For some this condition is mild, while for others there are complications from post nasal drip, that may require treatment.

Problems Swallowing

If mucus begins to accumulate in the throat, it can block the larynx or voice box, trachea and/or bronchi in the lungs. This can affect the voice and make it difficult to swallow, claims the American Academy of Otolaryngology. Trouble swallowing is often worse in the elderly whose swallowing muscles may not be as strong, at nighttime when the swallowing muscles are not as active and during periods of stress when the throat muscles may spasm. If the throat is swollen or there are abnormal growths in the throat, the symptoms of post nasal drip may become worse.

Chronic Cough

Whenever too much mucus accumulates in the throat, there may be an urge to cough to clear it out. If left untreated, post nasal drip can cause a cough that becomes chronic, warns the National Lung Health Education Program. Coughs can become severe to the point they interrupt sleep, affect the ability to work and can lead to chest pain and create difficulty eating. Post nasal drip that is accompanied by a sinus infection or allergy may produce mucus that is yellow or green. This signals an infection that requires medical attention. Treating the underlying problem often helps to alleviate the post nasal drip symptoms.

Trouble Breathing

Severe cases of post nasal drip can cause problems with the vocal cords. The Cleveland Clinic states that excessive mucus production can cause the vocal cords to close rather than open, when trying to breathe. This can create symptoms such as trouble breathing, wheezing sounds when breathing, feeling as if there is something stuck in the throat, chocking and tightness in the throat and chest. A physician can run tests, to help determine if post nasal drip is the cause.

Ear and Sinus Infections

In most cases, post nasal drip does not cause serious complications. However, in some, it can block the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube travels from the ears to the nose and helps to maintain equal air pressure within the ears. If this tube becomes blocked it can lead to chronic ear infections. Excessive mucus can also block the sinus passageways and create a sinus infection. The National Institutes of Health, recommends seeking medical attention if symptoms last longer than three weeks in older children and adults, longer than ten days in children three years old and younger, there is a fever or the mucus is colored or foul smelling.

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