Ask The Doctor

Cough Could Be Caused By Post-Nasal Drip

Dear Dr. Garner,

My son has a constant cough. He is 15 years old and I’m so upset. It’s very frustrating. Day and night, all we hear is coughing, and he is constantly blowing his nose. I’m at my wits’ end. Can you help me?

My doctor says it could be post-nasal drip. Could you please tell me what this is? Thank you.

Wits’ End in



Dear Wits’ End,

This very well could be post-nasal drip, but your doctor needs to do a complete exam to help rule out other possible causes, such as asthma or other diseases that might be more serious.

There are glands in the lining of everyone’s nose, which, believe it or not, produce about one to two quarts of mucus a day. The mucus tends to be thick and is helpful in trapping and destroying bacteria and viruses before they get into the body. Usually the mucus in the back of the throat is not noticeable as it mixes easily with saliva and is just swallowed.

When your body makes more mucus and it is thicker than usual, symptoms arise similar to what your son has experienced.

How does one know if he or she has a post-nasal drip? A top 10 list of symptoms includes:

1. Coughing

2. Frequent spitting

3. Tickle in the throat

4. Mucus feeling in the back of the throat

5. Bad breath

6. Constant clearing of the throat

7. Constant runny nose

8. Nausea or vomiting

9. Chronic nasal congestion

10. Difficulty sleeping

A post-nasal drip can be very annoying. Basically, your throat imagines it has liquid in it all the time, which causes you to try to cough it up. The coughing can be so severe that someone can become hoarse or develop a sore throat, or even break a rib. It is also one of the leading causes of bad breath. The post-nasal drip creates an excellent environment for bacteria to grow which causes the foul odor.

As there are numerous causes for post-nasal drip, it is important to identify what is responsible and then plan treatment.

In general, there are many different causes for post-nasal drip. Some include:

• Allergies

• A cold

• Pregnancy

• Deviated septum

• Spicy foods

• Fumes from chemicals or perfumes

Therefore, if spicy food is the problem, treatment would include avoiding it. It is important to check for a sinus infection, which can mimic a post-nasal drip and cause the same symptoms. If the post-nasal drip is associated with sneezing, and itchy or watery eyes, it may be due to allergies.

Someone experiencing these symptoms should use common sense and avoid irritants, such as cigarette smoke or noxious perfume. Drink plenty of water, use a humidifier and air purifier with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

Sometimes saline nasal spray helps relieve the problem. For infants and children, gently removing secretions with a suction device is extremely helpful.

Women who are pregnant have increased risk of developing post-nasal drip. It is important to treat this condition so that severe coughing and spasms do not occur.

Basically, identifying the cause and then establishing a treatment is the accepted management.

I hope that this answers your question. This is a frequently asked topic as many people are affected with post-nasal drip. While it is very annoying, most cases are not serious, and resolve on their own.

I think that a trip to your family doctor with your son is warranted to get some further input into possible treatment options. I’m sure the condition is just as annoying for him as it is for you and your family.[hr] Dr. Steven Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on The NET, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Channel 97 Time Warner and Channel 30 Cablevision.

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