Is Tinnitus From Post-Nasal Drip A Cause For Concern?

Woman holding the bridge of her nose from post nasal drip

Post nasal drip is frequently linked to allergies and colds. Unlike a standard runny nose, this particular type of mucus secretion can cause a host of issues as diverse as a sore throat and damage to the inner ear.

What Is Post-Nasal Drip?

Glands in the nose and throat constantly make mucus to moisten and clean nasal lining, moisten air breathed, trap and clear what is inhaled, and help fight infections. We don’t typically notice the mucus because it mixes with saliva, naturally drips down the back of the throat, and is swallowed. Post-nasal drip is a condition in which the sinus cavities fill with mucus, but instead of running from the nostrils, as is frequently seen when you have a cold or sinus infection, mucus drips down the back of the throat in excess. Post-nasal congestion can be problematic for several reasons, the most pertinent of which is the ability of this mucus to essentially clog the drainage of the eustachian tube and ultimately damage the ears.

Post-Nasal Drip And Tinnitus

When the nasal cavity fills with mucus and blocks the eustachian tubes, changes to air pressure and normal function occur. Tinnitus can result when ears are no longer able to drain and reach equilibrium as a result of post-nasal drip.

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Symptoms of post-nasal drip can include coughing, frequent swallowing, hoarseness, bad breath (halitosis), nausea/vomiting from excess mucus draining to stomach, ear or throat discomfort, and ear infections. It is considered the underlying cause of several different issues, though it is an underlying cause, itself. Different conditions are at the root of eustachian tube dysfunction, and clearing up the original issue can frequently alleviate symptoms.

The Eustachian Tube And Tinnitus

diagram of the ear

The eustachian tube is a small passageway that connects the throat to the middle ear where the eardrum is located and helps maintain normal pressure in the middle ear space. Eustachian tube problems can occur if post-nasal drip flows down the back of the throat to the end point of the tubes and clogs them.

However, nasal drip is not the only condition affecting eustachian tubes that can lead to tinnitus. Infections and poor drainage without drip are also possible instigators for tinnitus, as all parts of the sinuses are interconnected systems that rely on the health of one another to remain stable. When patients experience dysfunction in one area of the sinus cavities, as might occur in sinusitis and other sinus infections, tinnitus may not be far behind.

Ear Congestion And Tinnitus Symptoms

While it may not initially seem as though congestion in the ear is related to the development of hearing issues, sinus congestion and corresponding ear congestion can lead to tinnitus symptoms, whether those symptoms lead to persistent tinnitus or temporary symptoms. Ear congestion can be a result of excess mucus, but can also be a symptom of blowing the nose too frequently or with too much force. Congested or plugged ears often muffle sound, and can cause headaches and a persistent feeling of pressure in the sinuses. When ear congestion resolves, whether that comes after you treat sinusitis or simply chew some gum, ringing in the ears may resolve.

Ear Infections, Sinus Infections, and Tinnitus

Ear infections in the ear canal (outer ear) or, in this case, a middle ear infection can cause a decrease in hearing or temporary hearing loss, which can result in tinnitus. Chronic post-nasal drip can result in the temporary loss of hearing (typically conductive hearing loss), which can result in tinnitus. Inner ear loss of hearing (called sensorineural hearing loss) can also cause tinnitus, but there is not currently evidence that post-nasal drip has direct effects on the inner ear. An audiologic exam can help determine the type and extent of hearing loss.

Chronic sinus infections are a known cause of post-nasal drip and tinnitus, largely because nasal congestion related to a sinus infection causes abnormal pressure in the middle ear and impair hearing function. Pressure causes damage and phantom sound in the same way as an ear infection, and can impact hearing levels as well as create a sensation of phantom sounds that include ringing, rushing, or roaring.

Treating Post-Nasal Drip

Two people drinking tea

Treatments for post-nasal drip run the gamut, from at-home remedies that can be completed easily, to medications. The most common recommendations for post-nasal drip treatment include the following:

  • Exposure to steam, taking a warm shower, or drinking warm beverages like broth or tea. These are all common home remedies, but are intended to relieve symptoms rather than directly address a bacterial infection or more serious issue.
  • Using a humidifier. Again, this can help with post-nasal drip that is ot directly related to an actual infection, but is due more to allergies or other non-infectious causes.
  • Hydrating adequately. Dryness can be a source of post-nasal drip, so making sure that you are adequately hydrated and supporting your body can help alleviate symptoms.
  • Nasal irrigation. Nasal irrigation is accomplished by essentially “flushing” the sinuses, most often with a saline solution. This can help ease some pressure on the mucous membranes and support a healthier level of secretion.
  • Medication or decongestants such as antihistamine, oral decongestant, or guaifenesin. Depending on the cause, doctors may prescribe or suggest medications and decongestants, though more intense cases may require nasal corticosteroids.
  • Sleeping propped up on pillows. By sleeping propped up on pillows, you can help mucus flow in a steadier, slower manner, and ease the effects of post-nasal drip.

Tinnitus treatment related to post-nasal drip starts by treating the underlying condition. Tinnitus relief typically aligns with relief of post-nasal drip or another related condition, so determining if the root is from an external source or is derived from something else altogether is essential in finding relief from tinnitus symptoms.

Other Causes Of Tinnitus

Different types of eustachian tube dysfunction can lead to hearing concerns, but there are actually numerous traumas and conditions that can cause ringing in the ears, both in an acute form and in a chronic form. The most common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Loud noise exposure. Loud noise exposure can cause tinnitus, as it damages the hair like structures within the ear, which helps appropriately deliver and filter sounds. When these structures are damaged, ears can perpetually or intermittently sound as though they are ringing.
  • Ear infection and blockage. Many factors come into play here, but persistent or chronic ear infections and blockages can also damage the ear and lead to ringing in the ears.
  • General hearing loss. General hearing loss can have numerous causes (and numerous treatment options), but tinnitus frequently accompanies individuals who suffer from hearing loss, whether it is due to age or another factor.
  • Injuries to the head or neck. Head and neck injuries can negatively impact the nerves and processes within the head and neck, which affects the efficiency of sounds coming into auditory pathways, and how those sounds are registered.
  • Medication side effects. Some medications list tinnitus as a possible side effect, while others have hearing loss as a potential side effect. In either case, people taking these medications may find themselves experiencing ringing, buzzing, or roaring in the ears.

Although not all of these conditions are reversible, there are numerous tinnitus treatment options available to help manage symptoms and increase quality of life.


Many patients who see an audiologist or ENT for issues related to sinuses and tinnitus find themselves with a case of related conditions. From allergies to sinusitis, to dry air and congested ears, the sinus cavities are all highly related to one another, and any dysfunction, injury, or illness in one will result in changes to the other. By addressing allergies, sinusitis, and other common causes of blocked eustachian tubes, patients may be more likely to see changes to tinnitus symptoms and experience relief. 

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