Drooling In Seniors: What It Is, Why It Happens, How It Is Treated

Drooling is the unintentional spillage of saliva from the mouth. It occurs with any condition that impairs neuromuscular control of the muscles around the mouth. It is expected in babies, who do not yet have full motor control. But it is very embarrassing for senior citizens.


Drooling in the elderly is often associated with side effects of certain drugs and chronic conditions. It occurs when clearing saliva from the mouth is impaired.

Usually, seniors have difficulty keeping their lips pursed and also have trouble swallowing. The secretion of the salivary glands is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. When this system is stimulated, salivation increases. Neurological conditions and certain drugs can cause this reaction.





Drooling: Causes

The most common causes are infections and  neurological conditions.

Excessive drooling is common among people with:

  • a history of traumatic brain injuries
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • myasthenia gravis
  • Parkinson’s Disease

Other conditions that can lead to drooling include:

  • Epiglottitis: This infection causes swelling of the epiglottis, a plate of cartilage in the back of the throat that helps a person to swallow.
  • Bell’s palsy: This condition causes mild to severe muscle weakness on one side of the face.
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome: This autoimmune disorder harms nerves throughout the body

This condition can have medical and psychosocial impacts on a person’s life. It is also embarrassing in social situations and affects the self-esteem.

Severe drooling can lead to chapping, irritation, and a breakdown of the skin.

If a person cannot swallow, saliva often seeps out as drool. However, in serious cases, it can pool in the throat. When inhaled, this can lead to a lung infection called aspiration pneumonia.


Drooling: Treatments

People commonly drool while sleeping.

Switching to sleeping on the back may be a quick fix. Gravity will prevent saliva from seeping out of the mouth.

Sinus infections and allergies can also lead to increased saliva production and a stuffy nose.

Having a blocked nose causes a person to breathe through the mouth, making it easier for saliva to escape.


Drooling: Take medication

A doctor may recommend medicine in patients with neurological conditions.

Scopolamine, also known as hyoscine, intercepts nerve impulses before they reach the salivary glands.

This medication is often delivered in the form of a patch placed behind the ear. The patch releases the medication continuously, and one patch typically lasts for about 72 hours.

Glycopyrrolate is another option. It also decreases saliva production by blocking nerve impulses, but side effects can be more severe. They may include:

  • irritability
  • trouble urinating
  • hyperactivity
  • skin flushing
  • decreased sweating


Drooling: Surgery

Surgery is only scheduled as a last resort and only when a neurological condition is the cause, or other treatments have not worked.

Methods may include removing the sublingual or submandibular salivary glands.

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