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Post nasal drip problems

Hi, during the winter months I tend to get a post nasal drip and a cough that doesn't ever go away. It is usually worse at night and is manageable during the day. The doctor has prescribed me anti-histamines and a nasal spray, the anti-histamines seem to have dried up my runny nose in the mornings but the cough is still present, usually keeping me up at night meaning I get only 2-3 hours of sleep max. Is there anything I can do to improve the lack of sleep?

16 March 2021

A post nasal drip is where the normal process of mucus production, which is essential to help fight infection, becomes excessive and thicker and causes a sensation that makes you want to cough or clear your throat frequently.

Causes of a post nasal drip include cold and flu viruses, allergies, sinus infections, polyps, deviated nasal septum, medications, some foods and changes to climate and air pollution. Post nasal drip can affect anyone but it is more frequent with increasing age due to swallowing issues or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Symptoms include wanting to continually clear your throat, sore throat and a chronic cough which is often worse at night- hence often causing disruption to sleep.

Treatment varies according to the cause of the post nasal drip and can include antihistamines and decongestants which thin and dry up the excessive mucus and reduction of response to allergens, saline drops to clear the nasal passages, antibiotics to fight infection and even surgery if there are polyps or deviation of the nasal septum.

As sleep can be affected it may be a good idea to sleep propped up by pillow. It is a good idea to ensure that your pillows and mattress are covered with dust mite proof covers as dust mites are often a cause of allergic reactions which can make you produce more mucus due to inflammatory reaction by the body.

Good bedroom hygiene and regular dusting and hoovering can also reduce reaction to dust and mites. Our article, ten top tips for a better night's sleep has more suggestions on how to improve sleep hygeine.

Taking decongestants as previously mentioned can help as well as steam inhalations and the use of vaporisers with oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, clove, lemon and peppermint. These oils can aid with relaxation as well as having antibacterial and decongestant properties.

Diet can also affect mucus production – too much dairy, starchy and sugary foods all increase mucus production so it may be wise to reduce the intake of these generally. It is also very important to keep well hydrated particularly with water.

As you say that this appears to be an on going issue every winter period it may be good to ask for your GP to refer you for ENT assessment to exclude physical factors which may be making this worse for you. It would also be important to have infection excluded if the mucus becomes offensive in smell and contains blood or you develop a fever.

For lots more information and inspiration to help you sleep better, from what to eat for a better night's sleep, to breathing exercises to help you unwind at the end of the day, take a look at our sleep hub. Or if you have a particular question or concern not covered here, you can always contact our Health at hand team at any time of the night or day via our Ask the Expert service to get the answers you need.

Answered by the Health at Hand team.

Further reading and resources

Sleep hub - AXA Health

What to eat for a good night's sleep - AXA Health

Dairy free milk alternatives - AXA Health

Curb your enthusiasm for sugar - AXA Health

Dehydration - am I at risk? - AXA Health

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