What Causes Sticky Saliva?
There are a few potential causes for sticky, thick, or stringy saliva:
One of the most common reasons for sticky saliva is simply not drinking enough fluids. Saliva is largely composed of water. When the body is dehydrated, it produces less saliva. The saliva that is produced becomes thicker and stickier as a result.
Drinking more water and staying hydrated can help thin out saliva and make it less viscous. Adults should aim to drink around 2 liters of water per day. Thirst is not always a reliable indicator of hydration status, so it’s important to drink water even when not feeling thirsty.
Many common medications can cause dry mouth or thick saliva as a side effect. Some examples include:
– Muscle relaxants
– Pain relievers
These medications reduce saliva production, which concentrates the mucus in saliva and makes it thicker. Switching medications or adjusting dosages under a doctor’s supervision may help alleviate this side effect. Sipping water regularly can also help counteract medically-induced dry mouth.
Damage or disorders affecting the nerves that stimulate saliva production can result in low saliva volume and sticky saliva. For example, radiation treatment for head and neck cancers can damage salivary glands. Nerve damage from diabetes, injuries, or surgeries can also impair saliva production and quality.
Treating the underlying condition when possible is the best way to improve saliva problems from nerve damage. Otherwise, drinking sufficient fluids, chewing gum, and using oral lubricants can provide some relief of sticky saliva.
Tobacco use is linked with decreased saliva flow and changes to saliva composition. The chemicals in cigarette smoke are irritating and toxic to salivary glands. Over time, smoking can cause chronic dry mouth and thick, ropy saliva.
Quitting smoking is the most effective way to combat its effects on saliva. However, former smokers may continue experiencing dry mouth and sticky saliva for some time after quitting. Sipping water, sucking on sugar-free candies, and using oral moisturizers can help provide relief.
Anxiety and stress can also manifest in the form of increased, sticky saliva. Stress activates the autonomic nervous system, which stimulates saliva production. Heightened anxiety and panic attacks may cause hyper-salivation with stringy, mucus-filled saliva.
Learning to manage stress and anxiety through counseling, relaxation techniques, or lifestyle changes can help reduce hyper-salivation episodes. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may also be used in moderation to control symptoms.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is characterized by acid reflux from the stomach into the esophagus. This can irritate the esophageal lining and also cause increased thick secretions. These secretions mix with the saliva, making it seem thicker and stickier.
Treatment for GERD involves medications like antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. These reduce stomach acid production and minimize damage and irritation to the esophagus. Lifestyle adjustments like not eating before bed, losing weight, and avoiding trigger foods can also help control symptoms.
Seasonal or environmental allergies that cause post-nasal drip can also impact saliva thickness. The mucus dripping down the throat mixes with saliva. This makes the saliva seem thicker and stringier.
Managing allergies with antihistamines, nasal sprays, air filters, and avoiding triggers can improve post-nasal drip. However, it may take time for thickened saliva to return to normal following an allergy flare-up. Drinking plenty of fluids helps dilute and clear some of the mucus.
Oral infections, like gingivitis or tonsillitis, stimulate the immune system’s inflammatory response. This triggers increased secretions, which can coat the mouth and throat. The excess mucus makes saliva seem stickier as it mixes together.
Treating infections with antibiotics or antiseptics will clear up thick saliva that develops alongside an oral infection. Good oral hygiene and regular dental cleanings can also help prevent certain infections that lead to increased oral secretions.
While it may seem counterintuitive, dry mouth can also cause sticky, thick saliva. With inadequate saliva production, the limited saliva present is high in mucus concentration. Lack of water dilution results in the mucusy saliva feeling sticky and tacky.
Increasing fluid intake, chewing gum, and using oral moisturizing gels or sprays are some ways to combat sticky saliva from chronic dry mouth. If an underlying health condition is contributing to dry mouth, treating that may help improve saliva quantity and quality.
Eating more sugary or acidic foods can increase risk for thick, ropy saliva. Sugar feeds oral bacteria that produce excess mucus. Acidic foods promote greater saliva production. Both these effects can lead to stickier saliva.
Limiting sugar intake and acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes, and pineapple may help minimize extra mucus production. Drinking more water to dilute saliva can also counteract thickening from diet. Avoiding unhealthy snacking and brushing after meals helps reduce sugary build up.
Breathing through the mouth excessively allows air to dry oral tissues. This results in inadequate lubrication and less saliva flow. Thick, sticky saliva can develop due to the drying effects of chronic mouth breathing.
Using nasal strips or getting treatment for obstructions like enlarged adenoids can help promote nose breathing during sleep. Staying hydrated and using a humidifier at night also helps prevent sticky saliva from mouth breathing. Applying thick, protective lip balms gives added moisture.
Tips for Managing Thick, Sticky Saliva
If you experience persistent issues with thick, stringy saliva, here are some tips that may help provide relief:
– Drink plenty of water – Staying well hydrated dilutes saliva and thins it out.
– Limit caffeine and alcohol – Caffeine and alcohol promote fluid loss and dry mouth.
– Chew sugarless gum – Chewing gum promotes more saliva flow to wash away thick mucus.
– Suck on ice chips – Sucking on ice helps thin excess mucus.
– Try a warm salt water rinse – Salt water helps draw out mucus and clear the mouth.
– Use a humidifier – Humidifiers prevent dryness that thickens saliva.
– Avoid milk/dairy – Dairy increases mucus production in some people.
– Breathe through your nose – Reduces drying of oral tissues from mouth breathing.
– Monitor your medications – Talk to your doctor about potential side effects on saliva.
– Get more rest – Fatigue and exhaustion can make saliva issues worse.
– Try an oral rinse – Oral rinses help coat, moisturize, and thin out saliva.
When to See a Doctor
In most cases, sticky saliva is not a major medical concern on its own. However, if it persists for more than a couple weeks or keeps recurring, check with your doctor to identify any underlying condition. Seek medical care right away for thick or sticky saliva that occurs alongside:
– Difficulty swallowing or speaking
– Red or white patches in the mouth
– Swelling of the face and neck
– Oral ulcers or sores
– Severe dry mouth or thirst
– Lumps in the neck or mouth region
– Unexplained weight loss
– High fever or shortness of breath
These symptoms may indicate a more serious issue that requires prompt medical investigation. Thick saliva paired with any severe or worsening side effects warrants an urgent appointment.
Saliva that appears thick, sticky, or ropey is primarily caused by inadequate hydration, certain medications, oral infections, allergies, and medical conditions like GERD or diabetes. Paying attention to your hydration levels, managing health conditions, and practicing good oral hygiene can help reduce thick mucusy saliva. Speak with your doctor if it does not improve or you experience other concerning symptoms. With the right adjustments and care, you can get your saliva back to its normal, watery state.