Catarrh can be referred to as a build-up of mucus in an airway or cavity of the body. Generally it affects behind the nose, the throat or the sinuses (air-filled cavities in the bones of the face).
It is often temporary, but some people have experienced it for months or years. This is known as chronic catarrh. Catarrh can be a nuisance and may be difficult to get rid of, but it's not harmful and there are some treatments available.
What causes catarrh?
Usually, catarrh is caused by the immune system further reacting to an infection or irritation that causes the lining of your nose and throat to become swollen and produce mucus.
This can be triggered by:
- a cold or other infections
- hay fever or other types of allergic rhinitis
- non-allergic rhinitis
- nasal polyps
The cause of catarrh is still not known, but it's not thought to be the result of an allergy or infection.
It can be associated to an abnormality in the way mucus travels inside the nose or an increased sensitivity to mucus in the back of the nose and throat.
Symptoms associated with catarrh
Catarrh can lead to a:
- constant need to clear your throat
- feeling that your throat is blocked
- blocked or stuffy nose that you can't clear
- runny nose
- feeling of mucus running down the back of your throat
- persistent cough
- headache or facial pain
- reduced sense of smell and taste
- some temporary hearing loss
These types of problems can be frustrating to live with and may affect your sleep, making you feel tired.
Treatments for catarrh
Catarrh will often pass in a few days or weeks as the condition that causes it improves. There are some things that you can try at home to reduce your symptoms, like:
- ignoring things that trigger your symptoms, like allergens or smoky places
- having sips of cold water once you feel the need to clear your throat – constantly clearing your throat may make things worse
- using a saline nasal rinse many times a day – these can be bought from a pharmacy or made at home with half a teaspoon of salt in a pint of boiled water that's been left to cool
- ignoring warm, dry atmospheres, like places with air conditioning and car heating systems – placing plants or bowls of water in a room may help to keep the air humid
- staying well hydrated
- talking to a pharmacist about suitable over-the-counter medications – including decongestants, antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays
There are also several remedies, like herbal medicines, available from health shops and pharmacies that claim to treat catarrh. Some people find these helpful, but there's generally little scientific evidence to suggest they work.