Woman coughing and holding her throat

The glands in the throat, airways, nose, intestinal tract, and stomach produce large amounts of mucus. In fact, research has shown that the nose produces about a quart of mucus every day. Mucus is a wet and thick substance that supports the body by keeping its inner lining moist. Beyond preventing excessive dryness, mucus is also vital for protection against pathogens that cause infection, such as viruses and bacteria.

While mucus does come out of the nose when we catch a cold, it often filters back through the throat. This process is known as post-nasal drip. Most of this mucus passes back down the throat without us even being aware of it. Post-nasal drip only becomes noticeable when mucus production increases, usually as a result of a bacterial or viral infection. This will ultimately lead to a sore throat and coughing over time. 

A Scientifically-Proven Link

While few people are aware of the connection between sinus issues and chronic coughs, there is a large wealth of research that confirms it. In fact, a mayo clinic study published in 2005 found that more than one-third of chronic cough patients had sinusitis, which is a condition characterized by inflammation of the sinuses. 

The science backs up these findings. When the sinuses become inflamed, mucus production is ramped up. This inevitably affects the post-nasal drip process, increasing the amount of mucus that passes through the back of the throat. This increased amount of mucus leads to a ‘tickle’ feeling in the back of the throat, giving patients the urge to cough and clear their throat. 

While the natural response to this feeling is to clear one’s throat and blow their nose, the irritated sinuses keep producing excessive amounts of mucus, preventing the throat tickle from going away completely. What results from this is a vicious cycle of mucus accumulation and throat clearing. The more the patient coughs and tries to clear their throat, the more irritated their larynx will become.

Diagnosing the Problem

One easy way for patients to tell if they actually have sinusitis is to pay attention to when their symptoms flare up. For example, if their coughing intensifies at night when they lay down for sleep, this is a strong indication that increased mucus production from post-nasal drip is the culprit. Coughing may also increase in the morning, as the body resumes its mucus-clearing duties. 

As with any issue that affects any part of the body, it is always a good idea to reach out to a specialist who can properly diagnose the condition. Ear, nose and throat specialists can detect sinusitis and help patients figure out ways to resolve it. In most cases, the issue can be resolved by simply taking some over-the-counter medications and using a cool-mist humidifier. Other cases may call for something more extreme, such as surgery. Visiting an ENT can help illuminate the severity of the situation and determine the best method of treatment. 

What Is the Takeaway?

Sinus issues have a clear link to coughing conditions. Understanding this connection can help patients make better decisions about their treatment, enabling them to tackle the root cause rather than just alleviate the symptoms. It is highly recommended that patients refer to an ENT to get a proper diagnosis of their condition before making any decisions about treatment. 

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