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

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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 (air-filled cavities in the bones of the face that drain into the nose), but it can also occur in the throat, ears or chest.

This can lead to:

  • 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

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.

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

The links above provide more detailed information on these conditions.

Chronic catarrh

In some cases, people can experience chronic catarrh, which is not caused by an allergy or infection and lasts for a long time. The cause of chronic catarrh is unknown but it may be related to an abnormality in the lining of the throat.

Should I see my GP?

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

However, some people may experience chronic catarrh, which can be frustrating to live with.

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

Self-help techniques are often the best way of managing chronic catarrh if a cause cannot be found.

Treating catarrh

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

When no cause can be identified, self-help techniques are the best way to relieve symptoms. This may include:

  • simple environmental changes – such as avoiding warm, dry atmospheres
  • avoiding dehydration
  • saline nasal rinses
  • decongestant medicines

Read more about how catarrh is treated.

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2014

Next review due: 16/05/2016


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

sarahjk123 said on 01 May 2014

Nettascha go back to your GP and insist on being referred to ENT (ear nose & throat) at the hospital. You have suffered long enough. They should be able to help you

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Nettascha said on 29 April 2014

ok, about 7 years ago I got a really bad chest infection and a cold which seemed to last for quite a while, i was given antibiotics which didnt help, tried nasel spreys the lot, this chest infection i got was the worsed i have ever had! And now i have suffered from excess mucus in the back of my throat ever since. Its there more often than not and it make my life/ social/work life terrible. Im so embarrassed about it, I constantly have the urge to hockle it up and spit it out which myself and other find disgusting. Its not pretty and sounds horrible when i do it. I dont know what the cause of this is TBH. the mucus can be clear thick and or foamy, or contain normal "snots" lol sorry about that. its worse in the morning when i wake up and take me about an hour to clear most of it. it can also become worse on a night time while in bed, esp if the room is hot and not ventilated. its like having a constant cold ie mucus dripping in the back of my throat but with out the soar eyes soar nose etc. I have now recently developed an Acid reflux/heartburn problem, but have been put on tablets for this but does not seem to be helping with the mucus. I have read on many sites that dairy products may add irritate or worsen this type of condition. Im just getting really sick of this now, I went to see my GP a few years back about this but he wasnt helpful TBH and just gave me a course of antibiotics, which didnt do a thing to help. Does any one else have this problem? Any advice?

PS I am otherwise healthy 29yo Female

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