Phlegm refers to the mucus released by glands located in the lung passages. Some mucus is considered normal and healthy, and it is responsible for keeping certain areas of the body moist. It also protects these areas from harmful bacteria and viruses. However, in many cases, phlegm may be an indication of excessive mucus buildup, and it can cause discomfort. Excessive mucus often occurs when patients have a common cold, flu, allergies, or another upper respiratory illness. It can also develop due to smoking, lung diseases such as pneumonia or lung cancer, and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
While healthy phlegm is normally clear in color, phlegm produced during times of illness may be yellow or green. Doctors can check for the presence of excessive phlegm by looking in the mouth and throat and listening to the chest with a stethoscope. The remedies described below are often helpful for patients in eliminating excessive phlegm.
Drink Lots Of Warm Fluids
Doctors frequently advise patients with excessive phlegm to drink lots of warm fluids. Warm fluids such as hot herbal tea can be very soothing in instances of an upper respiratory infection that causes excessive phlegm. Staying properly hydrated helps prevent mucus from becoming thick and hard. By keeping the mucus thin and stringy in consistency, hydration encourages the body to eliminate the phlegm more readily. Adequate hydration helps mucus drain from the sinus passages more efficiently for patients with colds or sinus infections. Individuals with allergies may be able to reduce congestion and mucus buildup by consuming sufficient fluid.
In general, doctors recommend drinking six to eight glasses of fluid per day. While juices, teas, milk, water, and coffee can all be included, those experiencing discomfort from phlegm may wish to avoid dairy products until their condition improves, as milk can sometimes increase mucus production, increasing the irritation some patients experience.
Try Eucalyptus Oil
Made from the dried and distilled leaves of the eucalyptus tree, eucalyptus oil is an essential oil that can help reduce congestion, sinus pressure, and excessive phlegm. Individuals should consider inhaling a vapor that includes eucalyptus oil as a main ingredient to reduce phlegm. This is the most common method of using eucalyptus oil; typically, patients rub a eucalyptus-infused cream onto their chest and inhale the vapors. If possible, look for a cream with natural ingredients.
Alternatively, patients may wish to inhale eucalyptus vapors by placing several drops of eucalyptus essential oil into a diffuser. This oil could also be added to a warm bath. Any of these methods will help loosen phlegm and thin it out so it can be more easily removed by the body. Additionally, eucalyptus oil helps provide relief from a stuffy nose, another common ailment among individuals with excessive phlegm.
Gargle Salt Water
Gargling salt water may provide symptom relief for patients struggling with several symptoms at once, including coughs, excessive phlegm, and a sore throat. The salt helps calm throat irritation, and it can aid in eliminating residual phlegm that may have accumulated in the back of the throat. Experts recommend dissolving between one half to one teaspoon of salt in a full cup of warm water. Individuals should place the solution in the mouth, gargling for a few seconds before spitting it out. This can be done safely several times a day.
Many doctors advocate gargling salt water as often as needed for symptom relief, and some practitioners suggest trying four to six times each day. It is safe to use any kind of salt when preparing salt water for gargling, including coarse sea salt or iodized salt. While warm water typically adds to the soothing effect, gargling can be done with cold water if the patient prefers. Generally, experts recommend children should be at least six years old before they use salt water for gargling.
Try Sinus-Clearing Foods
Patients struggling with sinus issues, phlegm, and congestion can all benefit if they try sinus-clearing foods. These foods are high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, and they are often very effective for temporary pain relief. Since everyone responds differently to foods, patients may need to try several foods and combinations to find a remedy that works for them.
Examples of sinus-clearing foods include red bell peppers, which contain high levels of vitamin C, and green vegetables like broccoli, bean sprouts, spinach, and leafy greens. These vegetables are high in calcium, a mineral that counteracts the inflammation-producing effects, stuffiness, and congestion that may develop due to histamine. Fruits such as oranges, berries, and grapefruit are other options that are high in vitamin C. Experts recommend using ginger, turmeric, fresh garlic, chili, and cayenne pepper to thin out any existing mucus and aid sinus stimulation, particularly for patients who are able to tolerate spicy foods.
Use A Cool Mist Humidifier
Patients with especially severe phlegm, nasal congestion, allergies, and sore throats may be advised to use a cool mist humidifier. A humidifier is a device designed to increase the amount of moisture in the air. Increased humidity in the air can help break up and thin phlegm, ease breathing, and reduce congestion and stuffiness. Humidifiers for home use are available in both cool mist and warm mist options. While both are equally effective, cool mist humidifiers are typically preferred for safety reasons, and doctors recommend only cool mist humidifiers be used for children.
These devices reduce the burn hazards that may be posed by warm mist humidifiers. When using an at-home humidifier, individuals should make sure to clean it regularly and properly to avoid mineral accumulation and the growth of dangerous bacteria and molds.
Apply A Warm Compress
Among the most effective ways to get rid of phlegm is to apply a warm compress to the face, particularly for those who have recently been sick. This compress can come in the form of a wet washcloth that has been placed under warm water. For those suffering from a sinus headache because of the buildup of phlegm, a warm compress will be able to relieve the pain from the headache while also returning moisture to the throat and nose. When the throat and nose receive the appropriate moisture, the phlegm in an individual's system should become less thick, which reduces the adverse effects of the phlegm.
When creating the warm compress, individuals must make sure the water is less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit for adults or 105 degrees Fahrenheit for children. Individuals can also gently massage the area while the compress is positioned over their face, which should relieve their headache. They should keep the compress on their face for anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes. However, they may need to place the compress under warm water every five minutes to ensure the cloth remains warm.
Use Saline Nasal Spray
One of the easiest ways to get rid of phlegm in the nose is to use a saline nasal spray. These sprays are able to clear out both allergens and mucus from the sinuses and nose, which should make it easier to deal with the effects of phlegm. Keep in mind saline sprays will cause a runny nose in the immediate aftermath of using the spray, which can be frustrating to deal with, particularly for individuals suffering from a cold or the flu.
Spray comprised solely of sodium chloride is recommended. Sodium chloride has been known to have a variety of health benefits for respiratory conditions, which means both the phlegm and underlying cause of the phlegm should be addressed when a saline nasal spray is used. When individuals irrigate their nose, it is highly recommended that the water they use is either distilled or sterile.
Mucus is always in an individual's body and is typically a healthy component of the respiratory system designed to trap and get rid of harmful particles. When individuals become sick, however, this mucus can thicken into a heavier phlegm substance, which can be difficult to handle. In order to reduce or get of phlegm altogether, individuals should try expectorants, which are medications designed to loosen and thin phlegm to the point where they should be able to cough it up and get it out of their system. These medications work by adding some water to the mucus, effectively thinning out the mucus.
Individuals should keep in mind, though, that expectorants are not designed to treat the underlying condition or infection causing the increased phlegm, which means they'll still need to seek additional treatment. However, using expectorants should be able to help individuals sleep better at night and more effectively deal with the symptoms of their sickness during the day. This is an over-the-counter medication that usually lasts for around twelve hours per dose. There are also versions of the medication specifically designed to be used by children. Make sure to always follow the instructions on the package for the correct dosage.
Reduce Use Of Decongestants
When searching for ways to get rid of phlegm, it is very important for individuals to reduce their use of decongestants. These medications are designed to reduce the size of tissues and blood vessels in the nose that have become swollen, which should relieve some of the congestion. While these medications work well at drying secretions and getting rid of a runny nose, they will also cause any thick phlegm and mucus to harden as opposed to getting thinner, which means the phlegm could worsen as the result of using decongestants. When searching for the right nasal spray to get rid of phlegm, individuals must make sure they don't accidentally opt for a decongestant spray as opposed to a saline nasal spray.
Avoid Irritants In The Air
There's always a possibility the thickened phlegm an individual is suffering from could worsen instead of clearing up over time, which can be caused by certain irritants. To ensure the other solutions on this list are effective at getting rid of phlegm for good, it's highly recommended for individuals to do what they can to avoid irritants in the air. The main irritants individuals should stay away from while recovering from the infection or underlying condition causing the phlegm include pollution, chemicals, and strong fragrances.
These irritants can create issues within the throat, nose, and airways, which will cause the phlegm to worsen. When an individual's nose or throat becomes irritated by these substances, their body will react by producing more mucus. While it's not always possible to wholly avoid irritants in the air, staying inside for the duration of their sickness should help individuals minimize their exposure to these irritants.