Catarrh is not well-defined or thoroughly researched. It is difficult to describe, and people experience it in different ways. To some people, it is the constant feeling of needing to clear their throat. It can also feel like there’s mucus in the back of the nose. Catarrh can be chronic or acute. Some only experience it when they have a cold, but others experience constant catarrh all the time.
Lack of Systematic Data
There is a significant lack of data concerning catarrh, and few studies have been done on it. How it develops is unclear, and finding a cause is difficult. One reason clinicians have a difficult time diagnosing catarrh is that there are often no physical findings, and they can only go by the symptoms that the patient explains, which are varied and subjective.
Types of Catarrh
There are two types of catarrh. One is when patients experience a feeling of excess mucous in the nose and throat without a runny nose or post-nasal drip. The other type is more commonly known as rhinitis. People with this type have excess mucus running out of their nose or down into the back of their throat. Rhinitis can affect children but is more common in adults over 20.
The direct cause of catarrh is not understood, but many things can trigger it, including allergies, nasal polyps, and rhinitis; however, these things do not directly cause the symptom. Instead, it may be triggered by sensitivity to mucus in the back of the nose and throat and is usually due to immune system response.
Symptoms of catarrh vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms are a stuffy nose that will not clear, constant throat clearing, runny nose, headache, muted sense of taste or smell, cracking in the ears, or feeling like there is something stuck in the throat. These symptoms may also disrupt sleep, leaving the person feeling tired.
Diagnosing catarrh can be difficult for many reasons. It is not a disease, and diagnostic criteria are poorly defined. There are also no specific diagnostic tests for catarrh. Physicians diagnose it based on the symptoms described by the patient. Research in this area shows common diagnostic tests are not useful for identifying this issue.
Research is limited, but one study shows that 95 percent of patients with catarrh have no abnormal issues with the cilia lining the nose and throat. Mucous also appears to pass through the upper airway normally. Only 30 percent had allergies, indicating that allergy testing is not a reliable way to diagnose the issue. Without physical symptoms, CT scans are also not beneficial to diagnosis or treatment.
There is no cure for chronic catarrh. Steroid nasal sprays are beneficial, though only if a runny nose is one of the symptoms. Saline rinses may help, but the person must do them multiple times a day. Antibiotics are also not beneficial.
People experiencing catarrh can manage symptoms in other ways. Avoiding triggers — allergens, warm, dry climates, and rooms that are dry from heating or air conditioning — is beneficial. Taking small sips of water can help soothe the need for constant throat clearing. Humidifiers in dry rooms can also help.
When to See the Doctor
Generally, doctors do not monitor catarrh unless there is a change in symptoms. Because of the difficulty in diagnosing and treating it, most doctors will rule out anything serious and then follow up during regular checkups. If there are any changes in symptoms, like pain, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, or a change in the voice, the person should inform their physician as these can indicate a more serious problem.
Uncertainty and Cautions
There are many uncertainties about catarrh. Doctors are not always able to find a solution or effective treatment. Many people claim to have natural cures to catarrh. While some people might find these helpful, it is important to remember that no studies have determined that these treatments are effective cures.