Certain treatments, such as moisturizing, using a humidifier, and taking over-the-counter medications, can help clear excess mucus from the throat and chest.
What causes phlegm in the throat?
Phlegm is a thick, sticky substance that builds up in the back of the throat when you’re sick. At least most people notice it. But did you know that you always have this mucus?
Mucous membranes produce mucus to protect and support the respiratory system. These membranes line your:
Mucus is sticky and can trap dust, allergens, and viruses. When healthy, the mucus is thin and noticeably less. When you are sick or have too many particles, the mucus thickens and becomes more noticeable as it traps these foreign substances.
Phlegm is a healthy part of your respiratory system, but if it makes you uncomfortable, there are ways to thin it out or reduce it.
Read on to learn about some natural remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and when you might want to see a doctor.
- Humidify the air
Humidifying the air around you can help keep mucus thin. You may have heard that steam clears phlegm and congestion, but this idea is not scientifically supported.
Instead of steam, you can use a cool mist humidifier. You can safely use this moisturizer all day long. You should change the water daily and clean your humidifier according to the package directions.
- Keep moist and warm
Drinking plenty of fluids, especially warm fluids, helps flush out mucus.
Water and other liquids help to move mucus, so it loosens congestion. Sip on liquids like juices, soups, and broths. Other good liquid options include decaffeinated tea, warm fruit juice, and lemon water.
Your drink shouldn’t be the only thing warm. You should be too! Keeping warm is an easy home remedy to soothe the respiratory system. This is because you are better able to cope with diseases that produce more mucus (like a cold) with body heat.
Ways to keep warm are:
wear warm clothes to protect from cold temperatures
snuggle up in bed with an extra blanket
- Use components that promote respiratory health
Try foods and drinks that contain lemon, ginger, and garlic. A 2018 study found that they can help treat colds, coughs, and excess mucus, but there isn’t much research to back this up.
Spicy foods that contain capsaicin, such as cayenne or chili peppers, can temporarily clear sinuses and move mucus.
There is scientific evidence released in 2016 that the following foods and supplements can help treat and reduce the risk of certain viral respiratory illnesses.
You may also be wondering about chicken soup, a classic dish that many people reach for when they’re sick. Does it also help with phlegm? Some studies suggest so.
Chicken soup is good for treating colds and removing excess mucus. This is because chicken soup slows down the movement of neutrophils in your body. Neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, fight infection. When they move slowly, they stay in the infected area of your body for a long time.
Overall, more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of these foods, but for most people, adding these ingredients to their diet is safe.
If you are taking any prescription medications, check with your doctor before adding any new ingredients to your diet.
- Rinse with salt water or use a saline solution
Gargling with warm salt water can help clear phlegm from the back of your throat. It even helps with sore throats.
Follow these easy steps when rinsing with salt water.
Mix one cup of water with 1/2-3/4 teaspoon of salt. Warm water works best because it dissolves the salt quickly. It’s also a good idea to use filtered or bottled water that doesn’t contain irritating chlorine.
Drink a little of the mixture and turn your head slightly back.
Gargle without drinking the mixture.
Exhale for 30-60 seconds to clear your throat, then spit out the water.
Repeat if necessary.
If you don’t want to rinse with salt water, there is an easier and more effective alternative to thin sputum: saline solution. Saline is a saline solution that can be used as a nasal spray or in a neti pot. It’s over the counter and a natural sinus reliever.
A 2018 study supports the idea that saline is absorbed by mucus after more than a week of use.
- Use Eucalyptus oil
Using Eucalyptus essential oil can help reduce excess mucus in the chest. It loosens mucus and makes coughing easier. Meanwhile, if you have a cough, eucalyptus can soothe it.
You can use a diffuser to inhale the steam or use a balm containing this ingredient.
Despite studies suggesting health benefits, the FDA does not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. Before you start using essential oils, it’s important to talk to a health professional and carefully research the brand’s product quality. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
- Taking non-prescription drugs
There are also OTC medications that you can use. For example, drugs that remove mucus from the nose. This mucus is not considered phlegm, but it can cause chest congestion. Decongestants work by reducing nasal congestion and opening the airways.
You can find oral pain relievers in the following forms:
tablets or capsules
liquid or syrup
There are many types of decongestant sprays on the market.
You can try a product like guaifenesin (Mucinex), which thins mucus to keep it from settling in the back of the throat or chest. This type of medication is called an expectorant, which means it thins and loosens the mucus to help expel it.
This OTC treatment usually lasts 12 hours, but you must follow the package directions. There are children’s versions for children aged 4 and up.
Chest rubs like Vicks VapoRub contain eucalyptus oil, which helps relieve coughs and loosen mucus. You can rub it on your chest and neck up to 3 times a day. Young children shouldn’t use Wix at its full potential, but the company does make a kid-friendly version.
- Try prescription medications
If you have a specific condition or infection, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat the underlying cause of your symptoms. If you have a chronic lung disease, such as cystic fibrosis, there are special medications to thin the mucus.
Hypertonic saline is a nebulizer inhalation therapy. It is stronger than OTC saline and is sometimes more effective. It works by increasing the amount of salt in your air. It has different benefits and can be used by people aged 6 and above.
Hypertonic saline provides only temporary relief and some side effects
edication often used by people with cystic fibrosis. You inhale it through a nebulizer. It’s also suitable for people ages 6 and up.
You may lose your voice or develop a rash while on this medication. Other side effects include:
When to see your doctor
Excess or thick phlegm from time to time is usually not a reason for concern. You may notice it in the morning because it’s accumulated and dried overnight. You may also notice more phlegm if you’re sick, have seasonal allergies, or if you’re dehydrated.
If uncomfortable phlegm becomes a regular occurrence, you might want to make an appointment with your doctor. There are several health conditions that may cause a buildup of phlegm, including:
cystic fibrosis (although this condition is usually diagnosed early in life)
other lung diseases
Contact your doctor if your phlegm has been bothering you for a month or longer. Let your doctor know if you have other symptoms, like:
coughing up blood
shortness of breath
It’s important to remember that the body produces mucus at all times. When you notice excess mucus, it’s typically a sign your body is fighting off a cold, allergies, or something more serious.
There are many medicines and remedies tailored to different severity levels and preferences. OTC medication and at-home remedies are great places to start.
While many home remedies don’t have a large body of research on their effectiveness, they typically aren’t harmful to most people. OTC saline solutions and medications, on the other hand, have been researched and found effective in many cases.
Severe cases of excess mucus can usually be treated with prescribed medication.
While excess mucus can often be treated at home, contact your doctor if:
you’re concerned by how much phlegm you have
the amount of phlegm has dramatically increased
you have other symptoms that worry you