The glands in your nose and throat make 1 to 2 quarts of mucus every day — almost the same as the amount of water you should drink. This means that more than 1 gallon of liquids from water and mucus alone passes down your throat each day.
Although your body is built to handle this load, an imbalance in how much mucus you make or how it moves down your throat can cause problems. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and postnasal drip are two conditions that can disrupt this natural flow. It can be difficult to know which is causing the problems.
This article will explore how GERD and postnasal drip are related and what to do if you’re dealing with both problems.
In GERD, the muscles that separate your esophagus (the swallowing tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) and your stomach don’t work the way they’re supposed to. This causes excess acid and other substances to flow from your stomach back up into your esophagus. These fluids can irritate and damage the esophagus.
When this damage happens, the acid irritation can cause glands in your esophagus to produce even more mucus. It does this to try to protect and lubricate your throat. Although this isn’t technically postnasal mucus, it can still leave you with the feeling of mucus buildup in your throat.
So, if you’re experiencing gastric reflux and the sensation of postnasal drip, they may be related.
It’s unlikely for postnasal drip to cause GERD. As mentioned above, GERD is primarily a problem with the muscles that separate your esophagus from your stomach. But many things can increase the irritation in your esophagus or trigger the overproduction of stomach acids.
Mucus from postnasal drip is just one of the many fluids that pass through the esophagus each day. Mucus production triggered by viral illnesses or other infections can irritate the lining of the throat, making it more sensitive to damage from stomach acids. You may also develop a cough with postnasal drip that could further irritate the tissue in your esophagus.
So, although postnasal drip probably won’t cause GERD, it can still leave you with an uncomfortable feeling in your esophagus.
Postnasal drip is a common problem where you feel mucus draining from your nose into your throat. Although this happens normally, with postnasal drip, there’s a lot more mucus than usual, and it can feel like it’s collecting in your throat.
Many people associate postnasal drip with respiratory illnesses, but you can also develop postnasal drip from:
- sinus infections
- viral infections
- cold temperatures
- weather changes
- dry air
- spicy foods
- medications that cause mucus to thicken
GERD has many causes, but for most people, there’s a problem with the muscles that form the opening between your esophagus and stomach.
These muscles, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), open and close to let food pass from the esophagus into the stomach. When it’s not working right, acids and other substances can rise from the stomach into your esophagus, damaging delicate tissues and causing irritation and a burning feeling.
Although GERD is mainly a mechanical problem with the LES, many things can cause this problem to develop or make you more likely to experience symptoms of GERD. These include:
- a hiatal hernia
- laying down too soon after eating
- eating large meals frequently
- eating certain foods like french fries
- drinking acidic beverages like orange juice
The best way to tackle GERD is to find out what’s causing your reflux. Steps you can take to reduce the symptoms of GERD include:
- losing weight
- changing your diet
- waiting to lie down after meals
There are also over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications you can take. These include H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors, which lower the amount of acid your stomach makes.
In severe cases, you may need surgery to correct GERD, but you may still have to continue with these diet and self-care changes to keep GERD from returning.
You can also help reduce symptoms of postnasal drip by:
- drinking warm liquids like hot tea
- using OTC decongestants or antihistamines, which lower or block the chemicals that cause allergy symptoms
- using saline nasal sprays or rinses
- sleeping with your head elevated
Both GERD and postnasal drip can cause symptoms like:
- throat irritation
- chronic cough
- feeling like you need to clear your throat
- difficulty swallowing
- bad breath
If you’re experiencing these symptoms and you don’t have an acute infection — or an infection that happens suddenly — or other sudden explanation, you may want to talk with a doctor or healthcare professional.
Several things can cause postnasal drip, and many of them are fleeting. But GERD can be caused by issues that require more medical attention, maybe even surgery.
The main symptom of GERD is heartburn. Although heartburn is common, frequent or persistent heartburn may be caused by GERD. Talk with a doctor or healthcare professional if you get heartburn more than twice a week.
Your doctor or healthcare professional will do a physical examination and ask you about your personal and family medical history, as well as any medications you’re taking. Additional tests, like an endoscopy, may be needed to accurately diagnose the cause of your GERD or rule out other conditions that can affect the throat and stomach.
Many other conditions can lead to irritation in the esophagus or the overproduction of mucus or stomach acids. These include things like:
If you’re experiencing an overproduction of mucus, stomach acid, or both that’s leaving your throat feeling blocked or irritated, try making some simple changes like avoiding spicy foods and keeping your head elevated after you eat.
If home remedies do nothing to help your symptoms, you may want to schedule an appointment with your doctor or healthcare professional. There are a number of other conditions that can lead to reflux, as well as an overproduction of mucus.