Many of us have experienced the feeling of mucus trapped in our nose or throat. The sensation can sometimes lead to discomfort or a constant urge to swallow or clear your throat.
This condition is called catarrh. It’s when mucus builds up in your nose, sinuses, or throat. Another term for catarrh is “postnasal drip.”
Keep reading to learn more about catarrh in adults and children, some common risk factors, and how the condition can be treated.
Catarrh is when mucus accumulates in your nose, throat, or sinuses. The word “catarrh” comes from an ancient Greek phrase meaning “to flow down.” In fact, if you have catarrh, you may feel as if mucus is slowly dripping down the back of your throat.
The word “catarrh” isn’t very common in the United States. Another term for catarrh that you may be more familiar with is “postnasal drip.”
It’s believed that catarrh happens when your body responds to things like an infection or an irritant. This reaction can cause swelling in your nose and sinuses, leading to an increase in the amount of mucus that’s made.
Catarrh is often only temporary. However, in some people, it can become chronic. While it’s unclear what causes chronic catarrh, it’s believed to occur due to an increased awareness of and sensitivity to symptoms affecting the nose and throat.
Catarrh is most commonly associated with the following factors:
- Infections. The common cold, the flu, and sinus infections can all lead to catarrh.
- Allergies. People who have allergies may also experience catarrh. Some common allergens include things like pollen, dust, and pet dander.
- Environment. Things in your environment — such as changes in the weather or being around irritants like cigarette smoke, fumes, or pollution — can cause catarrh.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). People with GERD may find that they experience catarrh.
- Nose or sinus structure. Nasal polyps or other abnormalities in the structure of the nose or sinuses may lead to catarrh.
- Hormones. The changes in hormones that occur during puberty, during pregnancy, or from using oral contraceptives can cause catarrh.
- Spicy foods. Eating spicy foods can lead to an increase in mucus production, leading you to experience transient (temporary) catarrh.
Because a variety of different factors are associated with catarrh, it can sometimes be hard to prevent. In some cases, the exact cause of your symptoms may not be identifiable.
However, there are some steps you can take in your day-to-day life that may reduce your risk of developing catarrh, including:
- Avoid triggers. If your catarrh is associated with allergies or irritants, try to avoid situations that may trigger symptoms. For example, you might avoid outdoor activities during pollen season or keep away from areas where smoking is permitted.
- Use a humidifier. Since dry air may contribute to catarrh, consider trying out a humidifier to help add moisture to your home.
- Prevent infections. Prevent an infection that may lead to catarrh by washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with people who are sick.
- Clean often. If you experience catarrh due to allergies, cleaning can help clear allergens from your home. Focus on things like vacuuming, dusting, and washing fabrics and bed linens.
The symptoms of catarrh can include:
- feeling like your nose is stuffy and being unable to clear it
- sensation of mucus running down the back of your throat or of having a lump in your throat
- frequently needing to clear your throat or swallow
- persistent coughing
- sore throat
- crackling feeling in your ears
- facial pain
- dulled sense of smell or taste
- trouble sleeping
There aren’t any specific diagnostic tests for catarrh. In most cases, people are said to have catarrh based on the sensations they’re feeling in their nose and throat.
If you see your doctor for catarrh, they’ll ask for your medical history and perform a physical examination. If they think an underlying condition like allergies, GERD, or a nasal polyp is causing your condition, they may order additional tests.
You can do the following things at home to help ease catarrh:
- Stay hydrated. Make sure you’re drinking enough water, which can help thin mucus in your nose and throat.
- Increase humidity. Using a humidifier or inhaling steam can help loosen mucus and ease throat discomfort.
- Sip water. Constantly clearing your throat can lead to increased throat irritation. If you feel like you need to clear your throat, take a small sip of cold water instead.
- Prop yourself up at night. Mucus can accumulate in your throat when you’re lying down. To help prevent this, use some pillows to prop yourself up when you go to bed.
- Use a nasal rinse. Utilizing a saline nasal rinse can help clear your nasal passages of excess mucus. These can be purchased over the counter (OTC) or made at home.
- Gargle salt water. Gargling with salt water can help break up mucus and ease discomfort in your throat.
- Try OTC medications. Examples of medications that may be helpful include nasal decongestants (Sudafed, Afrin), antihistamines (Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec), and expectorants (Mucinex, Robitussin).
When at-home care isn’t effective, your doctor may prescribe other medications to help ease your symptoms. These can include steroid nasal sprays like Nasacort or bronchodilators like Atrovent.
Additionally, if an underlying condition is causing your catarrh, your doctor will work to treat that. For example, they may prescribe antibiotics for a bacterial sinus infection or medications for GERD.
Children can also have catarrh. Generally speaking, the condition is quite similar for both adults and children. However, there are some additional things to be aware of when it comes to catarrh in children.
As in adults, catarrh in children is often associated with things like infections, allergies, or environmental irritants. Some additional risk factors for children include:
- foreign object in the nose
- enlarged adenoids
- cystic fibrosis
- immunodeficiency disorders
- cilia dysfunction disorders, such as primary ciliary dyskinesia or Kartagener’s syndrome
Catarrh also has similar symptoms in adults and children. However, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology notes that while other symptoms may occur, persistent cough is sometimes the only noticeable symptom in children.
Like in adults, catarrh in children is rarely harmful and will often ease over time. Some additional tips for alleviating catarrh symptoms in children include:
- Use a nasal aspirator. This is a device that uses suction to gently remove excess mucus from a child’s nose. It may be particularly helpful for reducing nasal mucus in babies and toddlers.
- Consider saline. Mucus can sometimes be too thick to remove with an aspirator. In these cases, saline nasal drops or sprays can be used to thin it out. There are many OTC products available that are appropriately sized for children.
- Harness humidity. Using a humidifier in your home may help thin mucus in a child’s nose and throat.
- Try OTC medications. Many decongestants or antihistamines are specifically formulated for children. Always read the label carefully before using these, and don’t hesitate to talk with your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns.
When to see the doctor
Although it can be annoying, catarrh isn’t harmful. However, see your doctor or other healthcare provider if you or your child has symptoms of catarrh that happen along with:
- difficulty breathing, chest pain, shortness of breath or wheezing
- bloody or bad-smelling mucus
- unexplained fever
- difficulty swallowing
Additionally, if catarrh is persistent or long-lasting, see your healthcare provider to determine whether it’s being caused by an underlying health condition. They can then work with you to develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Typically, catarrh lasts only for a period of days or weeks. Often, it goes away as the underlying condition that’s causing it improves or is treated.
There’s currently no specific cure for chronic catarrh. Because of this, individuals with chronic catarrh often implement a variety of home, OTC, or prescription remedies into their daily lives to help manage their symptoms.
Catarrh happens when mucus builds up in your nose, sinuses, or throat. It can affect both adults and children. You may also see catarrh referred to as postnasal drip.
Catarrh is associated with a variety of factors, such as infections, allergies, and irritants. Some of the common symptoms include feelings of nasal stuffiness or congestion, frequent swallowing or clearing of the throat, and persistent cough.
Typically, catarrh goes away on its own and can be treated at home by using a humidifier, saline washes, or OTC medications.
See your doctor or other healthcare provider if catarrh is persistent or occurs with shortness of breath, unexplained fever, or bloody mucus.