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:
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.
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.
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:
Read more about how catarrh is treated.
Treatment for catarrh may not be necessary because it often disappears within a few days, after your body has fought off the infection.
If treatment is required, the type of treatment recommended will depend on the underlying cause. For example:
If no cause can be found, you may be able to reduce the amount of catarrh you produce with the following self-help techniques:
Decongestants help relieve a blocked nose by reducing swelling of blood vessels in your nose.
Decongestants are available in tablet form or as a nasal spray and can be bought from pharmacies without a prescription. Oral decongestants (those taken by mouth) may take a little longer to work, but their effect can last longer than nasal sprays.
You should not use decongestants for more than five to seven days at a time. This is because they only provide short-term relief and using them for longer than seven days may make your symptoms worse.
Decongestants do not usually cause side effects and, if they do, they are likely to be mild. Possible side effects of decongestant nasal sprays may include:
Read more about decongestant medicines.