Navigate Up

Neurology Center - A-Z Index

#
J
Q
X
Y
Z

Print This Page

Drooling

Drooling is saliva flowing outside the mouth.

Alternative Names

Salivation; Excessive saliva; Too much saliva; Sialorrhea

Considerations

Drooling is generally caused by:

  • Problems keeping saliva in the mouth
  • Problems with swallowing
  • Too much saliva production

Some people with drooling problems are at increased risk of breathing saliva, food, or fluids into the lungs. This may cause harm if there is a problem with the body's normal reflexes (such as gagging and coughing).

Causes

Some drooling in infants and toddlers is normal. It may occur with teething. Drooling in infants and young children may get worse with colds and allergies.

Drooling may happen if your body makes too much saliva. Infections can cause this, including:

Other conditions that can cause too much saliva are:

  • Allergies
  • Heartburn or GERD (reflux)
  • Poisoning (especially by pesticides)
  • Pregnancy (may be due to pregnancy side effects, such as nausea or reflux)
  • Reaction to snake or insect venom
  • Swollen adenoids
  • Use of certain medications

Drooling may also be caused by nervous system disorders that make it hard to swallow. Examples are:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS
  • Autism
  • Cerebral palsy (CP)
  • Down syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson disease
  • Stroke

Home Care

Popsicles or other cold objects (such as frozen bagels) may be helpful for young children who are drooling while teething. Take care to avoid choking when a child uses any of these objects.

For those with chronic drooling:

  • Caregivers may try reminding the person to keep lips closed and chin up.
  • Limit sugary foods, because they may increase the amount of saliva.
  • Watch for skin breakdown around the lips and on the chin.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • The cause of the drooling has not been diagnosed.
  • There is concern about gagging or choking.
  • A child has a fever, difficulty breathing, or holds his or her head in a strange position.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The health care provider will do a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms and medical history.

Testing depends on a person's overall health and other symptoms.

A speech therapist can determine if the drooling increases the risk of breathing in food or fluids into the lungs. This is called aspiration. This may include information about:

  • How to hold your head
  • Lip and mouth exercises
  • Encourage you to swallow more often

Drooling caused by nervous system problems can often be managed with drugs that reduce saliva production. Different drops, patches, pills or liquid medicines may be tried.

If you have severe drooling, the health care provider may recommend:

  • Botox shots
  • Radiation to the salivary glands
  • Surgery to remove the salivary glands

References

Hess JM, Lowell MJ. Esophagus, stomach, duodenum. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2014:chap 89.

Melio FR, Berge LR. Upper respiratory tract infections. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2014:chap 75.

Gingrich C, Carroll W. Neurology. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 42.

Updated: 2/4/2014

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com