When your body produces so much phlegm that you are coughing up sticky, thick goo, it can be frustrating and feel a little gross. But mucus is actually vital for good health.
The mucus that coats your throat contains antibodies and enzymes that protect you from harmful organisms or particles that may contribute to illness. Coughing up mucus, which is typically something we don’t enjoy, is a sign that your body is healing!
If excessive mucus production is hindering you, though, there are effective treatment options. Understanding the reason why your body is producing too much mucus in your throat can help determine the right treatment.
In some cases, home remedies can be effective, but in more severe cases where mucus in the throat is brought on by an underlying illness, both over-the-counter and prescription medications may be necessary.
In this article, I’ll explain more about what mucus is, and some reasons you may be producing a lot of it.
I’ll talk about some home remedies and medications that can help, and tell you when to see a doctor.
What is Mucus?
When you cough, sneeze, or spit out mucus, it may be green, yellow, beige, clear, red, or even black.
The color, quantity, and texture of your mucus can help you determine what may be wrong with you, and how your body is progressing in fighting off an illness. Mucus is generated by membranes in the nose and sinuses.
It contains antibodies and enzymes that work to prevent harmful bacteria, viruses, and allergens from entering the body and spreading. Think of it as a line of a defense, a barrier between your body and a harmful antigen.
Respiratory mucus lines your mouth, nose, throat, and lungs. However, mucus is also produced in other parts of the body, including your cervix, digestive system, and urinary tract.
Common symptoms that accompany mucus production include:
- Chest congestion
- Nasal congestion
- Restlessness and trouble sleeping
- Runny nose
- Sinus headache
- Sore throat
What Causes the Overproduction of Mucus?
An overproduction of mucus is brought on by a wide range of illnesses, including bacterial infections, viral infections, allergies, and lung diseases.
Acid reflux occurs when acid from your stomach travels up your esophagus and sits in the back of your throat.
Acid reflux irritates the throat and causes excess production of mucus in the throat and nasal passages resulting in a sensation of postnasal drip, as your esophagus tries to clear out the acid.
When you have an allergic reaction to a food or something in the environment like dust, pollen, or dander, your immune system kicks into overdrive to produce mucus that will help expel the irritant.
If it is wet with small amounts of white or clear mucus, this is a sign your airways have become inflamed. If you cough up thick phlegm regularly, this could be a sign you have a bacterial infection that requires medical attention.
The mucus may be green or yellow in color. Coughing up or blowing red mucus out of your nose is a sign that blood has been mixed in.
The tissue lining of your nose or throat may have been irritated from too much wiping, rubbing, coughing, or blowing.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a broad term for a host of lung diseases that can make it harder to breathe.
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema fall under COPD, and are usually caused by long-term exposure to substances that irritate the lungs, specifically cigarette smoke .
In some cases, people with asthma can develop COPD.
When your body becomes dehydrated, mucus may thicken and tiny hairs called cilia, lining many internal organs, have a hard time pushing the mucus through your body, causing it to feel stuck and difficult for you to cough it up.
A dry environment can be caused by air conditioning, central heating, or an extremely dry climate, leading to dehydration.
Cold or dry air can aggravate the nasal passages, resulting in excess mucus production that may be thick in consistency.
Caffeine and alcohol consumption
Caffeine, found in coffee, black tea, and energy drinks, can lead to dehydration, which can contribute to the thickening of mucus produced by the cells in nasal and respiratory passages.
Heavy alcohol use can damage the mucociliary transport system, which functions to clear mucus from respiratory passages. When it is damaged, your body will have a hard time regulating mucus production.
Tobacco smoke can irritate the lungs and cause a range of symptoms including chest pain, wheezing, and coughing.
Long-term exposure can lead to serious health complications such as COPD, heart attacks, strokes, and death.
Home Remedies for Excess Mucus in Throat
There are a range of effective home remedies that can ease symptoms when you’re producing a lot of mucus.
You can incorporate the following home remedies into your healthcare simultaneously with OTC and prescription medications to treat the underlying cause.
- Eat chicken soup: A study carried out in 2000 concluded that chicken soup reduces inflammation associated with sinus congestion and colds. Chicken soup may prevent the migration of neutrophils leading to an anti-inflammatory response and therefore decreasing mucus production.
- Drink plenty of fluids: Fluids such as water, diluted juices, decaffeinated teas, soups, and lemon water can hydrate you and loosen congestion.
- Gargle warm salt water: This may help break up the phlegm in the back of your throat and soothe a sore throat.
- Avoid excess dairy. When battling phlegm due to illness, a high dairy intake can lead to increased mucus production and thickening of mucus.
- Consume lemon, ginger, and garlic: A 2018 survey found that consuming foods and drinks that contain lemon, ginger, and garlic can help treat colds, coughs, and excess mucus.
- Stay warm: Maintain a warm body temperature to help your body fight off illness. You can do this by drinking warm liquids, taking hot showers, wrapping yourself in blankets, and layering your clothing.
- Use a humidifier: Steam can help add moisture to the air and clear phlegm and congestion. A humidifier containing an air purifier can rid the air of irritants that may be causing excessive mucus production.
Medications for Excess Mucus Production
Depending on what is causing excess mucus production, over-the-counter (OTC) options can help relieve symptoms such as a stuffy nose, cough, and chest congestion.
When excess mucus production is caused by chronic illness such as cystic fibrosis or COPD, prescription medication may be required.
- Antihistamines: OTC antihistamines come in sedating and non-sedating options, and work to treat a runny nose, tickly throat, and chest congestion that is caused by your immune system’s response to an irritant in your environment. They can help dry up your nose and clear your airways. Sedating antihistamines cause drowsiness. Avoid operating heavy machinery and drinking alcohol while taking them.
- Oral and nasal decongestants: For the treatment of a stuffy nose, nasal sprays (like Flonase or Afrin) or oral decongestants (like Sudafed) may be indicated. Nasal sprays like Afrin, or oxymetazoline should not be used for more than a few days as they can cause rebound congestion, or chronic congestion. Flonase is a nasal corticosteroid spray that can be used daily to reduce the inflammation in the nasal passages. ). Oral decongestants work to open up your airways by constricting vessels to decrease swelling and congestion so you can breathe clearly again. Oral decongestants with pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine should be avoided in those who have high blood pressure.
- Expectorants: Expectorants such as guaifenesin (Mucinex) thin out mucus so it is easier to cough up.
- Suppressants: Suppressants reduce the number of times you cough and clear your throat. They work to coat the throat and soothe irritation.
In some cases, excess mucus production is a symptom of a more serious health condition such as a chronic lung disease or cystic fibrosis. Stronger medications prescribed by your healthcare provider can help eliminate mucus from your body.
These medications include:
- Dornase-Alfa (Pulmozyme): This mucus-thinning medication is used in the management and treatment of people with cystic fibrosis. It is suitable for ages six and up and is inhaled through a nebulizer. Dornase-Alfa helps you cough up sputum and clear your lungs.
- Hypertonic saline: Inhaled through a nebulizer, hypertonic saline has a high sodium concentration that attracts water into the airways thinning out mucus, stimulating the cough response. Some saline solutions are available OTC, but this one is available only by prescription.
When to See a Medical Professional
When home remedies and OTC medications have not been effective, contact a doctor. In some cases, excess mucus production can be caused by a serious underlying health condition that needs medical attention.
Consult a healthcare professional right away if you have any of the following symptoms:
- A cough that lasts two weeks or longer
- A cough that contains blood
- Foul-smelling mucus or mucus with blood
- A consistent fever of 101˚F (38˚C) or above
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- An overall feeling of illness spreading throughout your body
Excess mucus in the throat is sometimes your body’s way of warning you that it is fighting a viral or bacterial infection.
This may require a physical examination by a doctor and prescription medicine.
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A pilot, open labelled, randomised controlled trial of hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargling for the common cold. (2019).
Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro. (2000).
Dornase Alfa. (2022).
Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis. (2021).
Foods and Drinks to Avoid or Limit. (2022).
Hypertonic Fluids. (2022).
Worldwide Preferences for Natural Remedies for “Nervousness” and Common Colds. (2018).