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Your Drooling May Also be Known as:
Dribbling

Drooling Symptoms

Drooling, which means saliva runs out of your mouth and down your chin instead of being swallowed, may seem like a harmless problem to have. But when it happens uncontrollably, it can cause damaged facial skin, embarrassment, frustration, and social isolation.

It can also be a symptom of a more serious neurologic problem in anyone over the age of about two to four years.

Drooling, known by the medical terms sialorrhea or hypersalivation, is defined as saliva that runs out of your mouth beyond the margin of your lip.

Characteristics:

  • Facial chapping, skin damage, and infection from the persistent moisture on your cheeks and chin and having to constantly wipe it away.
  • Mouth odor and "bad breath." There is so much saliva lost to drooling that not enough is left to maintain proper pH and help cleanse the tissues of your mouth.
  • Difficulty swallowing due to food being dry.
  • Impaired digestion of starches, since this actually begins with the saliva in your mouth.

Who is most often affected by drooling symptoms?

  • Drooling is normal in infants and toddlers, though it normally stops by the age of 18 months.
  • If drooling continues, or first begins, after the age of four years, it is almost certainly due to some abnormal condition and should be addressed by your medical provider.

Are drooling symptoms serious?

  • Drooling is not serious if it occurs only in very young children, or in response to some temporary condition such as an injury to the mouth and teeth.
  • However, the condition can interfere with quality of life if it becomes chronic and causes facial skin breakdown, social isolation, and psychological distress.
  • Drooling can be a symptom of a serious neurologic condition, and sometimes other symptoms of neurologic illness might be ignored due to embarrassment about the drooling.

Drooling Causes Overview

Many conditions can have drooling as a symptom. The most common are those involving dental problems, followed by neurologic illnesses and certain miscellaneous conditions.

The most common cause of drooling is hypersecretion, or hypersalivation, which simply means too much saliva is being produced, which is usually due to:

  • Teething, in a young child.
  • Dental problems, in adults, which prevent the mouth from closing properly (malocclusion.)
  • Poorly fitted dentures or other dental appliances.
  • Injury to the inside of your mouth, possibly from misaligned teeth or dentures.
  • Infection or inflammation of the tissues within your mouth.
  • Inflammation of your salivary glands.
  • Side effects of medications.
  • In many cases, the exact cause of drooling cannot be determined.

Less common cause types of drooling:

  • Alcoholism or drug abuse.
  • Malformation of, or damage to, your jaw, preventing it from closing properly.
  • Damage following surgery to your head and neck.

Rare & unusual drooling causes:

  • Neurologic disorders such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, Parkinson disease, or stroke.
  • Loss of control following an injury that has caused nerve damage.
  • All of these can result in difficulty swallowing; loss of oral and facial muscle control; and inability to sit up straight.

We've listed some specific conditions that can cause drooling symptoms, along with how to identify each of them:

Top 7 Drooling Causes

  1. 1.Bell's Palsy

    Bell's palsy (facial palsy) causes sudden weakness in facial muscles and makes half of the face appear to droop. The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face or may be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.

    You should visit your primary care physician to confirm the diagnosis and discuss treatment options. However, some cases do not require treatment as symptoms go away on their own.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    arm weakness, arm weakness, hearing loss, hearing loss in one ear, leg weakness
    Symptoms that always occur with bell's palsy:
    face weakness, weakness in one side of the face
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Foreign Body Ingestion

    When a non-food object is ingested, it can have unpredictable and potentially dangerous effects on the body.

    You need to speak with a doctor to discuss whether the foreign object should be removed or allowed to pass through the digestive system. Often, the physician will want to take x-rays and closely monitor any changes in your GI tract.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    vomiting, trouble swallowing, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone, swallowing of something potentially harmful, gagging
    Symptoms that always occur with foreign body ingestion:
    swallowing of something potentially harmful
    Symptoms that never occur with foreign body ingestion:
    choking
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  3. 3.Esophageal Obstruction (Steakhouse Syndrome)

    When a large piece of food or an object gets stuck in the lower esophagus, it can produce some mild chest pain and excessive salivation (drooling).

    Someone experiencing an obstruction of the lower esophagus should be monitored in a hospital setting. A number of steps can be taken involving swallowing certain treatments and sometimes IV medication before removing the food manually is necessary.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    trouble swallowing, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone, swallowing of something potentially harmful, choking, vomiting
    Symptoms that always occur with esophageal obstruction (steakhouse syndrome):
    swallowing of something potentially harmful
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

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  4. 4.Inflammation of the Epiglottis

    Epiglottitis is inflammation of the epiglottis, tissue that covers the trachea (windpipe), which helps prevent coughing or choking after swallowing. It is usually caused by the bacteria H. Influenzae but can also be caused by other bacteria or viruses that cause upper respiratory infections.

    Call 911 immediately for an ambulance now! Epiglottis can be a life-threatening emergency. Though with proper treatment at a hospital, the outcome is usually good.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, pain with swallowing
    Symptoms that never occur with inflammation of the epiglottis:
    cough
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  5. 5.Ataxia - Telangiectasia (Louis - Bar Syndrome)

    Ataxia-Telangiectasia is a rare, brain degenerative, inherited disease causing disability. Ataxia refers to poor coordination and telangiectasia to small dilated blood vessels.

    You should visit your primary care physician to confirm the diagnosis and discuss treatment options for managing symptoms.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    difficulty walking, difficulty with coordination, numbness or tingling sensations in skin, jerky, unsteady, or uncoordinated walk, motor disturbance
    Symptoms that always occur with ataxia-telangiectasia (louis-bar syndrome):
    difficulty with coordination
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Arsenic Poisoning

    Arsenic is a naturally occurring and hazardous substance. Arsenic poisoning results in a syndrome of medical consequences due to arsenic exposure, either accidental, intentional or occupational.

    Proceed to the emergency room immediately.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    vomiting or diarrhea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), being severely ill, fatigue, nausea
    Symptoms that always occur with arsenic poisoning:
    vomiting or diarrhea, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.Retropharyngeal Abscess (Adult)

    Retropharyngeal abscess is a collection of pus in the tissues in the back of the throat. It is a potentially life-threatening medical condition.

    This is a medical emergency. Please seek out urgent care at your closest Emergency Department today. Diagnosis is done with imaging. Treatment is immediate surgical drainage and antibiotics.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, loss of appetite, sore throat, being severely ill, shortness of breath
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Drooling Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You begin choking on your saliva or feel that you cannot breathe due to aspiration (inhaling) of saliva.
  • You have sudden symptoms of stroke along with the drooling, such as severe headache, weakness on one side of your body or loss of vision.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Referral by your PCP to neurologists, otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat specialists,) speech therapists or occupational therapists. Dentists and orthodontists can correct any tooth problems and create special pieces that aid with normal mouth function. Physical therapy can be helpful for muscle control.
  • Further discussion with your physician about specific treatments for your case. These treatments can include medications, Botox injections to the salivary glands, and sometimes surgery or radiation therapy done on the salivary glands.

Drooling remedies that you can try at home:

  • Use pillows, cushions, or other supports so you can sit up straight and keep your head in a normal position.
  • Apply small amounts of diaper rash cream to any severely chapped skin on your face. Diaper rash cream is meant to both heal your skin and repel unwanted moisture.
  • For wiping away the drool, use facial tissues that contain lotion. Don't use cloths or regular tissues, since these can be too harsh for constant use on irritated skin.

FAQs About Drooling

Here are some frequently asked questions about drooling.

Why am I drooling in my sleep?

Drooling or sialorrhea can occur more commonly when you are asleep than when you are awake. This is due to sleeping on your side with your mouth open. Nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, also make you more likely to drool in your sleep.

Why am I drooling when I'm awake?

There are a variety of reasons you may be drooling while you're awake. You may be producing excess saliva, you may have pain or difficulty swallowing, or you may simply have a numb mouth from visiting your dentist. Pain or difficulty swallowing may be signs of an infection and you should seek medical care if you experience those symptoms. New drooling associated with facial weakness or difficulty swallowing could be a sign of an acute neurologic problem and needs immediate medical attention.

Why am I producing so much saliva?

Excess saliva production or hypersalivation can be caused by nausea, especially during pregnancy. Other causes include medical conditions such as acid reflux (GERD), gastroparesis, and mouth ulcers, medications such as antipsychotics, and toxins such as mercury and copper. Interestingly it is a sign of rabies which is now rare in developed countries.

Is excessive drooling a sign of a stroke?

Excessive drooling can be caused by a stroke. A stroke can cause weakness in the muscles of your face and jaw, making it more difficult to keep your saliva from spilling out of your mouth. A stroke can also cause difficulty swallowing, weakness in your face, arms or egs. If you are concerned about a stroke, you should seek medical attention immediately and call 911.

Can excess drooling lead to dehydration?

Yes. A healthy individual produces 0.5–1.5 liters of saliva a day. If a significant portion of that amount is lost (not swallowed) in the form of drool, then fluid volume will need to be replaced. Otherwise, over time, the individual can become severely dehydrated.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Drooling

  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Do you have a cough?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our drooling symptom checker.

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Drooling Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced drooling have also experienced:

    • 4% Recent Increase in Crying
    • 4% Fever
    • 3% Involuntary Movements
  • People who have experienced drooling were most often matched with:

    • 1% Esophageal Obstruction (Steakhouse Syndrome)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Drooling Checker

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