What causes drooling? 15 possible conditions

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What Is Drooling?

Drooling is defined as saliva flowing outside of your mouth unintentionally. It is often a result of weak or underdeveloped muscles around your mouth.

The glands that make your saliva are called the salivary glands. You have six of these glands, and they are located on the bottom of your mouth, in your cheeks, and near your front teeth. These glands typically make 2 to 4 pints of saliva a day. When these glands make too much saliva, you may experience drooling.

Drooling is normal in the first two years of life. Infants do not often develop full control of swallowing and the muscles of the mouth until they are between 18 and 24 months old. Drooling often occurs when a baby is teething. It can also occur in people who have neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy.

What Conditions Cause Drooling?

Drooling can be a symptom of a medical condition, developmental delay, or taking certain medications. Anything that leads to excessive saliva production, difficulty swallowing, or problems with muscle control may lead to drooling.

Some of the medical conditions that affect muscle control over the lips and tongue and cause drooling include:

  • cerebral palsy
  • multiple sclerosis
  • stroke
  • Parkinson’s disease

Other conditions that can lead to drooling are:

  • allergies
  • acid reflux or heartburn
  • pregnancy
  • above-the-neck infections such as strep throat, tonsil infection, or sinus infections

Drooling Risk Factors

Age

Drooling begins after birth and peaks between 3 and 6 months as infants become more active.

Neurological Disorders

Certain medical conditions can put you at risk for drooling. If a disease that decreases control of facial muscles affects you, you are more likely to drool.

Diet

Diets high in acidic content often cause excessive saliva production.

Medical Conditions

Drooling is usually caused by excess saliva in the mouth. Medical conditions such as throat infections and pregnancy can increase saliva production. Allergies, tumors, and sinusitis can impair swallowing.

How Is Drooling Treated?

Drooling is not always treated. Treatment will not be advised for someone under the age of 4 or who drools during sleep.

Treatment is recommended when drooling is severe; for example, if saliva drips from your lip to your clothing or your drooling interferes with your daily activities and creates social problems. Excessive drooling can also lead to inhaling saliva into the lungs, which can cause pneumonia.

Therapy

Speech and occupational therapists help teach positioning and posture control to help improve lip closure and swallowing. Therapists may also suggest you see a dietitian to modify the amount of acidic foods in your diet.

Appliance/Dental Device

A special device placed in the mouth helps with lip closure during swallowing. This option works best if you have some swallowing control.

Drugs

Certain medications help reduce saliva production. Medications include:

  • Scopolamine: comes as a patch and is placed on your skin to deliver the medication slowly throughout the day. Each patch lasts for 72 hours.
  • Glycopyrrolate (Robinul): given as an injection or in the form of a pill. Robinuldecreases your saliva production but can cause dry mouth as a result.
  • Atropine sulfate: given as drops in the mouth; usually used for patients during end-of-life care when they are having difficulties with drooling.

These medications can have side effects such as dry mouth, irritability, skin flushing, urinary retention, constipation, headaches, and nosebleeds.

Botox Injections

Botox injections may help reduce symptoms of drooling by tightening facial muscles.

Surgical Treatment

Several procedures are approved for the treatment of drooling. The most common is a procedure that reroutes the salivary ducts to the back of the mouth to prevent drooling outside of the mouth. Another procedure removes your salivary glands completely.

Article Sources:

  • Baumann, R. (2010). “Cerebral Palsy.” Magill’s Medical Guide, 6th ed. Pasadena, CA: SalemPress.
  • Blasco, P. (2010). The Treatment of Drooling. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 52 (11): 984.
  • Porter, R., ed. (2009). The Merck Manual. New Jersey: John Wiley and Son.
Read More

See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Teething Syndrome

Teething syndrome-or simply "teething"-is a normal process that infants go through as their teeth break, or cut, through their gums. Babies normally start teething when they are six months old. By the time a child i...

Read more »

2

Bell’s Palsy

Bell's palsy is a condition that affects movement of the muscles in the face. The muscles are affected by damage to the seventh cranial nerve controlling them. Significant damage of this nerve can result in paralysis o...

Read more »

3

Chemical Burns

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Chemical burns occur when the skin or eyes come into contact with irritants, such as acids or bases. Symptoms vary, but skin reactions, pain or numbness are common.

Read more »

4

ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a noncontagious, degenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. A chronic disorder, it causes a loss of control of voluntary muscles, also affecting the nerves tha...

Read more »

5

Peritonsillar Abscess

Peritonsillar abscess is a common bacterial infection that usually results from untreated strep throat or tonsillitis. Swollen glands in the throat and jaw, as well as a sore throat, can be signs of this condition.

Read more »

6

Epiglottitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Epiglottitis is a life-threatening condition characterized by inflamed epiglottis tissue. Once the airway becomes blocked, an adult or child may exhibit bluish discoloration of their skin or lips from lack of oxygen.

Read more »

7

Muscular Dystrophies

Muscular dystrophies are a group of diseases that are passed down genetically. These diseases cause damage and weakness to muscles over time. This damage and weakness is caused by the lack of a protein calle...

Read more »

8

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis is a neuromusclar disorder. It results in weakness of the skeletal muscles, and can cause double vision and drooping of the eyelid.

Read more »

9

Seizures

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Seizures are changes in the brain's electrical activity that cause violent shaking and loss of bodily control. Bruises can result from injuries sustained during a seizure.

Read more »

10

Diphtheria

Diphtheria is a sometimes fatal bacterial infection that affects the nose and throat's membranes. Diptheria of the skin may show up as a red rash.

Read more »

11

Guillain-Barre Syndrome

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare but serious autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy nerve cells of the peripheral nervous system. This leads to weakness, numbness, and tingling, and ca...

Read more »

12

Herpes Stomatitis

Recurrent herpes simplex labialis, also known as oral or orolabial herpes, is an infection of the mouth area caused by the herpes simplex virus. It is a common and contagious infection that spreads easily. According t...

Read more »

13

Polio

Polio (also known as poliomyelitis) is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. Children younger than 5 years old are more likely to contract the virus than any other group...

Read more »

14

Tetanus

Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system and causes muscles throughout the body to tighten. Tetanus is also commonly called lockjaw, because the infection primarily causes muscl...

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15

Rabies

Rabies-the word probably brings to mind an enraged animal frothing at the mouth. Unfortunately, an encounter with an infected animal can result in a painful, life-threatening condition and even death. According to th...

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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