One of the most common complaints I hear from patients in the office is, “Doctor, I have a post-nasal drip.” Or simply, “Hi, I got a drip.”
Let’s first talk about the term post-nasal drip, one of the great misnomers in medicine. Why? Because we normally produce 1 liter (33.8 ounces or 4 cups or 1 quart or a quarter gallon) of mucus every day from our nose, sinuses and throat. To announce, “I have a post-nasal drip” is like announcing, “I yawned this morning.” Congratulations.
The question is, what typically happens to this steady volume of mucus that is produced? Typically, it is swallowed. Yes, it is swallowed. We swallow about one thousand times per day. When we are not eating, we are swallowing our saliva. Mixed in there, in addition to saliva, is mucus from our nose, sinuses and throat. There are mucus glands that not only line the sinuses located around the nose, but in the nose itself and the entire throat that contribute to this volume of fluid. So why are we complaining about a drip? It is either because the mucus itself is too thick to travel where it is supposed to go or because of some obstruction to the normal flow of mucus. Lets analyze each situation.
In either case, mucus too thick or mucus blocked, you should see your doctor for an exam of your nose, sinuses, throat and lungs. Often your doctor, by listening to your history of how you describe your mucus problem, and by examining your chest, can figure out the source of your mucus complaint. Sometimes, you will need an examination by an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist. As was recently shown on The Dr. Oz Show, the ENT doctor, again after taking a detailed history of your mucus complaint, can use an ultra-thin scope that has a camera on it, to look at the nose, sinuses and throat to detect the source of your problem.
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