Catarrh is an excessive build-up of thick phlegm or mucus in an airway or cavity of the body 

Characteristics of catarrh

If you have catarrh, you may experience the following:

  • a blocked and stuffy nose
  • a runny nose or mucus that runs down the back of your throat
  • an irritating, persistent cough caused by excess mucus at the back of your throat
  • a headache 
  • facial pain caused by a blocked nose and blocked sinuses
  • a loss of smell and taste
  • temporary, partial hearing loss and a crackling sensation in your middle ear
  • tiredness
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Catarrh is an excessive build-up of thick phlegm or mucus in an airway or cavity of the body.

It is usually found in the sinuses (the two small, air-filled cavities either side of your nose), but it can also occur in the throat, ears or chest.

Catarrh is not a condition itself, but a symptom of conditions such as:

What causes catarrh?

Catarrh is caused by the immune system reacting to an infection or irritation. The immune system is the body's natural defence against infection and illness.

Your immune system sends infection-fighting white blood cells to the source of the infection or irritation. These release molecules called inflammatory mediators which cause the mucous membranes to swell and produce mucus. The swelling also narrows the cavity, resulting in further congestion.

Read more about the causes of catarrh.

Should I see my GP?

In most cases, catarrh will usually clear up as the underlying infection only lasts a short period of time.

If your catarrh persists, speak to your GP. They may want to rule out conditions such as nasal polyps and find if your catarrh is being caused by an allergic reaction.  

Read more about diagnosing chronic catarrh.

Treating catarrh

If your catarrh hasn't cleared up on its own, your treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

Decongestant medicines can help relieve a blocked nose by reducing swelling of the blood vessels in your nose. Decongestants are available from pharmacies without a prescription.

Steam inhalation may also help.

Read more about how catarrh is treated.

Page last reviewed: 29/05/2012

Next review due: 29/05/2014


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