Catarrh is an inflammation of mucous membranes in the airways, and typically affects the back of the nose, the throat or the sinuses.
Doctors sometimes refer to catarrh as postnasal drip. Often, catarrh is the result of an intermittent or temporary illness, such as an allergy or cold. It’s often temporary, but some people experience it for months or years. This is known as chronic catarrh.
Some common symptoms of catarrh include;
- A tickling feeling of mucus draining into the throat
- Rasping or gurgling when talking
- Feeling as though there is a lump in the throat
- Having to clear the throat frequently
- Having to swallow frequently
- Difficulty swallowing
- A sore throat
- A blocked or stuffy nose
- A headache
- Facial pain
- A loss of taste or smell
- Difficulty sleeping
What causes Catarrh?
Catarrh is caused by the body’s natural defences — immune system — reacting to an infection or irritation. When this occurs, it sends white blood cells to the source of the infection or irritation, which then releases molecules that cause the mucous membranes to swell and produce mucus.
The swelling also narrows the cavity, resulting in further congestion and this catarrh can be clear and runny or thick and coloured.
For reasons that are unknown, some people have abnormally sensitive blood vessels that react to environmental triggers, such as cigarette smoke and pollution. This causes the affected blood vessels to swell in a similar way to an infection or allergic reaction and it is this swelling that leads to congestion and catarrh — it is known as vasomotor rhinitis or non-allergic rhinitis.
Cigarette smoke and pollution are common triggers for this, with others including perfume, alcohol, spicy food, changes in the weather and stress.
When to see a doctor?
A person should visit their doctor if they experience chronic catarrh that has persisted for several months or more, or if they find that catarrh is interfering with their everyday life.
People should also seek medical help if catarrh is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- An unexplained high fever
- Shortness of breath
- Blood in the mucus
- Foul-smelling mucus
These symptoms can signal an infection or condition that requires prompt medical treatment.
Treatments for Catarrh
Catarrh will often pass in a few days or weeks as the condition that causes it improves. However, a person may seek treatment for the cause of persistent catarrh that is associated with pain, discomfort, or irritation.
The sections below will outline some potential treatment options for catarrh.
Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for catarrh include;
- Nasal irrigation
- Oral decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine)
- Mucus-thinning medications, such as guaifenesin (Mucinex)
- Antihistamines, to treat allergic causes of catarrh
- Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help ease headaches or facial pain
If a person has chronic catarrh, the doctor may recommend ipratropium (atrovent) or beclomethasone (Beconase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort).
Atrovent is a nasal spray that reduces the amount of mucus the body makes. Beconase and Nasacort are steroid sprays that can help ease the symptoms of chronic catarrh.
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