Mucus and Phlegm: What to Do if You Have Too Much

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Excessive mucus and phlegm may not be much of a conversation starter (unless you’re 14 and trying to spit the furthest). But if you have too much mucus, it can drive you crazy in search for solutions.

First, consider that mucus has a purpose. This fluid is naturally made by your body every day, says laryngologist Paul C. Bryson, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Voice Center.

“While the exact amount your body makes isn’t known, most experts think it’s about one liter a day,” he says. (That’s half of a 2-liter bottle of soda!)

Why does your body overproduce mucus?

Mucus has an important role in the body. It lines many of your tissues. Its slippery consistency helps protect and moisturize, and it also traps potential irritants.

Your body can go into overdrive creating mucus and phlegm when you:

• Have a cold
• Have irritated sinuses (sinusitis)
• Have allergies
• Are exposed to smoke or pollution

“Environmental allergies can cause excess mucus or phlegm, as can food allergies, but the latter is harder to diagnose based on this symptom alone,” Dr. Bryson says.

Is excess mucus ever a sign of something more serious?

If the amount of mucus your body makes is uncomfortable, you might worry it’s a sign of a more serious problem.

According to Dr. Bryson, mucus is typically not a symptom to worry about if it’s your only symptom.

“Worrisome signs are mucus accompanied by fevers, chills and night sweats, especially if you also experience weight loss, nasal obstruction or intermittent nose bleeds for more than two weeks,” he says.

Are there natural ways to address mucus or phlegm?

If you have chronic problems with phlegm, try the following:

Hydrate more. Drink more water. Also, consider your medications or any dehydrating beverages you regularly drink, such as coffee, alcohol and some teas. “A good rule of thumb is to drink enough water to make your urine pale,” Dr. Bryson says.

Use a humidifier. This can help your body moisturize your throat and nasal passages and may help you reduce mucus and phlegm production.

Check filters on heating and cooling systems. Make sure the filters are clean and functioning well to keep dust and other potential irritants out of the air.

Use a nasal saline spray. This helps rinse and hydrate tissues in your nose and sinuses.

These remedies also help if your problem with mucus and phlegm progresses to a post-nasal drip.

Other options for phlegm and mucus

“If you’re concerned about allergies, remember that the testing is easy and straightforward. You can also try over-the-counter allergy medications, which may solve your issue,” Dr. Bryson says.

Also, if in doubt, don’t hesitate to discuss your problem with your primary care doctor or an otolaryngologist, who can dig into your particular symptoms and history to find solutions.

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