Do you have excess phlegm stuck in your throat?
Have you been frequently clearing your throat and you can’t seem to get that sticky stuff off your throat because it keeps building back up?
You may clear your throat often because it feels like something is tickling or sticking in your throat. You may have these sensations even when there is nothing there. If you do, that may be mucus in your throat.
Differences between mucus and phlegm
Mucus is a normal, slimy substance made by many of your body’s lining tissues. It forms a protective lining in certain parts of your body, keeping them from drying out.
It is found in the membranes that line your:
Mucus also contains antibodies that help your body develop immunity and fight infections. It helps your body by defending those linings against invaders such as bacteria and viruses. When you are healthy, your body produces about 1 to 1.5 liters of mucus every day.
You may often mistake mucus for saliva, but the two substances are not the same. Saliva is a fluid produced in your mouth that helps you break down and swallow the food you eat.
Mucus, on the other hand, is made up of dead cells and other debris from your upper and lower airways. The mucus traps these and any other microorganisms, such as bacteria, so that you can cough them up and clear your lungs.
Causes of excess phlegm
While mucus is beneficial to your body, excess mucus production can have bad consequences. This is especially true if the excess phlegm is uncleared and chronic.
If you have too much phlegm, it can make it hard for you to breathe and make you more likely to get sick from an infection. Most of the time, all it takes is a bad cold, an allergy, or contact with something irritating for your body to start making too much mucus.
What is phlegm?
Phlegm is a type of mucus that is made in your lungs and lower airways. It becomes more noticeable when you have an acute illness or a longstanding illness (2).
You may find it harder to clear phlegm out of your airways (your nose, sinuses, and lungs). This is because it is so much thicker than mucus.
When you’re sick with certain illnesses, phlegm noticeably hangs around in the back of your throat. Sometimes, that’s when you’ll notice it.
Phlegm is one of your body’s ways of collecting and getting rid of bacteria in your respiratory tract. It could come out of your nose and sinuses, come up when you cough or build up in your throat.
Your mucus membranes make phlegm to protect and support your respiratory system. This helps your body trap dust, allergens, and viruses. When you’re healthy, the mucus produced is thin and less noticeable.
If you’re sick or exposed to foreign particles or allergens, your phlegm can get thick. It becomes more noticeable as it traps these foreign substances.
Phlegm is a healthy part of your respiratory system. However, if it’s making you uncomfortable, you may want to find ways to thin it or remove it from your body. A healthy body requires some mucus, but too much phlegm can be very uncomfortable and annoying.
Lifestyle risk factors
Excess phlegm may be caused by:
- outdoor air pollution
- indoor air particles such as dust or pet hair
- smoking tobacco products or secondhand smoking
- infections, such as the common cold or flu
- irritation of your nose, throat, or lungs
- a lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, lung cancer, or cystic fibrosis
- digestive conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
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How to eliminate excess phlegm and mucus
Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and keep your mucus thin. When you’re sick with a cold, drinking extra fluids can thin your mucus and help your sinuses drain.
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, staying hydrated will help you avoid being congested.
Gargle with salt water
Gargling with salt water can help calm your sore throat and get rid of any mucus that is still there. Add one teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm water and gargle.
Do this several times a day.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Both caffeine and alcohol can lead to dehydration if you consume them in excess. When you’re trying to get rid of excess phlegm and mucus, you should drink plenty of warm water and other warm, non-caffeinated beverages.
Take hot showers or hot baths
Spending time in a steam-filled bathroom will help to loosen and clear mucus and excess phlegm from your nose and throat. When you allow hot water to pulse on your face, this can also bring you relief from sinus pressure.
Keep moist air around you
When dry air irritates your nose and throat, it causes more mucus to form. This increases your phlegm production.
To avoid this from occurring, place a cool-mist humidifier in your bedroom. A humidifier will help you sleep better, keep your nose clear, and prevent a sore throat.
Keep your head elevated
If you have a buildup of mucus and excess phlegm and it’s bothersome, it may help if you sleep propped up on a few pillows. You may also find a reclining chair more comfortable than lying flat to sleep.
Lying flat will increase your discomfort. When you lie like that, you’ll feel the excess phlegm collecting at the back of your throat.
Use a saline nasal spray or rinse
A saline spray or nasal irrigator will help clear out mucus, excess phlegm, and allergens from your nose and sinuses. You should use sterile sprays that contain only sodium chloride.
If it’s your baby who’s having congestion from phlegm, you should get a sterile saline mist for newborns.
Inhale through a damp washcloth
Applying a warm, wet washcloth to your face and inhaling through it is a quick way to return moisture to your nose and throat. The heat will help relieve your pain and pressure.
You should not smoke and must avoid secondhand smoke as well. If you smoke or are around people who do, your body will make more mucus and extra phlegm.
Use eucalyptus oil
Apply eucalyptus oil directly to your chest. This will help subdue your coughs and reduce excess phlegm. You can also add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a diffuser or a warm bath to help clear your nose.
Avoid known irritants
You should avoid fragrances, chemicals, and pollution, which can irritate your nose, throat, and lower airways. These irritants cause your body to produce more mucus.
Avoiding any foods that cause acid reflux
If you get heartburn often, you probably know which foods cause your acid reflux to get worse. You should stay away from those foods because acid reflux can make you cough up more mucus and phlegm.
Keep track of your reactions to food
Do you have any foods that cause reactions that mimic seasonal allergies? Such foods may cause your nose to run and your throat to itch, leading to excess phlegm.
You should keep a record of any foods that trigger an increase in your phlegm production.
Take over-the-counter medication
What is the best over-the-counter (OTC) medication that you can take for excess phlegm in your throat? The best way for you to relieve excess mucus in your throat is to take an expectorant.
Guaifenesin is an over-the-counter expectorant. Medicines containing guaifenesin will help thin and loosen excess mucus in your throat.
These medicines get the mucus moving again, making coughs more effective.
You may try an over-the-counter medication like Mucinex. This expectorant will help to thin the mucus and excess phlegm stuck in your throat, making it easier for you to cough and spit it out.
You should avoid over-the-counter suppressants like Robitussin, which are designed to suppress your cough. Don’t be tempted to use suppressants because of a nagging cough and excess phlegm.
Coughing is your body’s way of keeping secretions out of your throat and lungs. Generally, you should use cough syrups sparingly, if at all (3).
Minimize the use of decongestants
Decongestants are good for drying your secretions and alleviating your runny nose. However, they may make it harder for you to get rid of excess phlegm and mucus.
You should avoid taking decongestants as a remedy for excess phlegm.
Cough it up, spit it out
When excess phlegm rises from your lungs into your throat, your body is trying to remove the phlegm. It is healthier for you to spit it out than to swallow it.
When to see a doctor
Many times, you may have excess phlegm as a result of a minor illness. These illnesses are best left to run their course.
If you have a lot of phlegm and mucus, it could be a sign of something more serious. You should see a doctor if you have excess phlegm and mucus that is severe, persistent, or does not improve with rest and home remedies.