Catarrh is a build-up of mucus in your nose and sinuses and phlegm in your throat. It usually clears up by itself but see a GP if it lasts longer than a few weeks.
Check if you have catarrh
You may get catarrh if you have an infection like a cold, flu or sinusitis.
Symptoms of catarrh include:
- a constantly blocked nose
- feeling like there's a lump or something stuck in your throat
- a frequent need to swallow or cough to try to clear your throat
- a feeling that mucus is slowly dripping down the back of your throat (postnasal drip)
- a crackling feeling in your ears
These symptoms usually only last a few days, but sometimes they can last longer.
Things you can do to help ease catarrh
Although catarrh can be annoying, phlegm and mucus are not harmful and are the body's way of clearing infection.
It usually goes away by itself, but there are some things you can do to help ease the symptoms.
drink plenty of water
sip ice cold water when you need to clear your throat, rather than coughing or swallowing
try using a humidifier to help loosen the mucus in your nose and throat
try using an extra pillow in bed so you sleep in a more upright position, rather than lying flat
try gargling with salt water
try rinsing your nose with salt water
How to rinse your nose with a homemade salt water solution
- Boil a pint of water, then leave it to cool.
- Mix 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into the water.
- Wash your hands.
- Stand over a sink, cup the palm of 1 hand and pour a small amount of the solution into it.
- Sniff the water into 1 nostril at a time. Breathe through your mouth and allow the water to pour back into the sink. Try not to let the water go down the back of your throat.
- Repeat the first 5 steps up to 3 times a day until your nose feels more comfortable.
You do not need to use all of the solution, but make a fresh solution each time you clean your nose.
A pharmacist can help with catarrh
You could ask a pharmacist about:
- decongestants and other medicines to help relieve catarrh
- salt water nose rinses – you can get several types, including specially designed bottles, nasal sprays and sachets
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- you have the symptoms of catarrh for more than a few weeks
The GP may want to rule out other conditions that could be causing your catarrh, such as nasal polyps.
Treatments from a GP
A GP may suggest trying treatments for catarrh that you can get from a pharmacist, like decongestant medicines and salt water nose rinses.
If your catarrh is caused by nasal polyps, a GP may prescribe steroid spray or nose drops. If these do not work, surgery may be needed to remove the polyps.
Causes of catarrh
Catarrh is your body's natural reaction to things like infection.
The lining in your nose, sinuses and throat becomes swollen and creates more mucus than normal.
Causes of catarrh include:
- infections like cold, flu and sinusitis
- pollution and cigarette smoke
- allergic reactions to things like pollen, dust and pet fur
- conditions that affect the nose, such as nasal polyps
Page last reviewed: 17 November 2022
Next review due: 17 November 2025