Mucus is one of those silent workers in your body that you don’t even notice till you feel sick and miserable and start coughing it up. It’s produced by cells in your upper airways and lungs and made of proteins, water, and salt. And did you know that it plays a critical role? Mucus forms a protective layer that keeps your nose and airways from drying out and traps dirt and germs to stop them from entering further into your body. Antibodies in mucus also kill germs and protect you from infection. Normally, microscopic hair-like structures (called cilia) moves mucus to the back of your throat and it is then swallowed. But if your respiratory system produces excess mucus (otherwise known as phlegm) it can drip down your throat giving you a husky voice, sore throat or a cough. And thick, sticky mucus isn’t just irritating to your throat it can be difficult to clear too.1 So let’s take a look at what causes phlegm and how you can get rid of it.
What Causes Mucus?
Allergies or viral illness like the common cold can produce excess mucus, so can an infection in the upper airways or your lungs, for example, a condition like tuberculosis, pneumonia, or bronchitis. It may also be an indication of chronic lung disease (for instance, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or asthma. And if you smoke then phlegm may point to lung damage caused due to this.2
How To Get Rid Of Mucus In Throat
Your doctor may prescribe medication to handle the underlying cause of excess phlegm – antihistamines (for allergies), antibiotics (for bacterial infections), or steroids (for asthma) can help. Cough suppressants and decongestants can also be useful.3 There are also a few things that you can do at home at might be helpful:
Make sure you have lots of fluids. Fluids can thin mucus, making it easier to expectorate.
Try A Salt Water Gargle
A teaspoon of salt dissolved into eight ounces of warm water makes a great gargle. Gargling with this helps you bring up mucus and also soothes a sore throat.4
Try Chicken Soup
It’s an old time favorite – a warm bowl of chicken soup when you’re down with a nasty cold. How does it work? Turns out the amino acid cysteine which is found in chicken meat can help thin mucus.5 So stick with the tried and tested chicken soup to get rid of phlegm.
Go For Steam Inhalation
Boil water in a wide rimmed pot. Once the water stops bubbling inhale the steam. It helps to drape a towel over your head and the pot as this will prevent the steam from escaping. Five to ten minutes of steam can help loosen and remove mucus.6
Eucalyptus is commonly used to treat respiratory problems and eucalyptus oil can loosen phlegm. Make a gargle with fresh eucalyptus leaves to soothe your throat. Adding a few drops of the essential oil to a steam inhalation can up its power and quickly clear congestion too.7 But do keep in mind that this remedy is not recommended for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women.8 However, you can still benefit from a plain steam inhalation!
The menthol in peppermint can loosen phlegm and thin mucus. A tea made from peppermint leaves should help clear congestion. A few drops of peppermint oil added to a steam inhalation can also help remove phlegm. But do keep in mind that this remedy is not recommended for children as inhaling menthol may be harmful for them.9 10
Check Out Thyme Tea
Thyme helps to remove mucus, has antiseptic properties and may even boost your immunity. So the next time your throat gets irritated by mucus, try some thyme tea to soothe it. You can also gargle with a decoction of thyme which is prepared by boiling this herb in water for ten to twenty minutes.11
Try Lemon And Honey
Lemon and honey have long been used traditionally for coughs and colds. Honey has antibacterial properties and is thought to soothe the throat while lemon is rich in vitamin C which boosts the immune system and is a powerful antioxidant. Lemons also have antibacterial and anti viral properties. Add about three tablespoons of lemon juice and a little honey to a cup of warm water. One study found that this remedy significantly reduced the severity and frequency of coughing in children.12
Drink Aniseed Tea
Aniseed is known to break up mucus and relieve congestion. Crush a couple of teaspoons of aniseed and let it steep in boiling water for ten to fifteen minutes. Strain and drink up to clear mucus!13
Do see a doctor if you have a cough that causes severe pain, shortness of breath, or lasts for four weeks or more. You should also get medical attention if you’re coughing up blood.14
What Precautions Can You Take?
- Avoid germs and allergens. Remember to wash your hands frequently if you’re around someone who is struggling with a nasty cold, especially before handling food or touching your mouth or nose. Also, the best way to prevent an allergic reaction is to stay away from substances that you’re sensitive to.15
- A healthy balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can really help your immune system stay strong and healthy. This will help you fight off germs before they make you sick and give you a stuffy nose or a scratchy throat.16
- Making sure you get proper exercise and sufficient sleep can do wonders for your immune system too.17
- Try natural remedies like tulsi, yogurt, and garlic that can strengthen your immunity. Tulsi leaves have been traditionally consumed on a empty stomach to improve immunity in some parts of Asia and scientific research also indicates that tulsi can activate your immune system.18 Meanwhile, yogurt contains beneficial bacteria that may reduce the severity of the symptoms of respiratory tract infections and cut short their duration.19 And studies have found that garlic can have a protective effect against the common cold as well as help you recover faster if you do fall ill.20
|↑1||Milk, Mucus and Cough. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑14||Cough. Ministry of Health.|
|↑4||The Editors of Prevention. The Doctors Book of Home Remedies: Quick Fixes, Clever Techniques, and Uncommon Cures to Get You Feeling Better Fast. Rodale, 2010.|
|↑5||Francis, Mandy. Raising a Healthy Eater (52 Brilliant Ideas). Penguin, 2007.|
|↑6||Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for nutritional healing. Penguin, 2006.|
|↑7||Eucalyptus. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑8||Eucalyptus. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑9||Editors at Reader’s Digest. Doctors’ Favorite Natural Remedies: The Safest and Most Effective Natural Ways to Treat More Than 85 Everyday Ailments. Simon and Schuster, 2016.|
|↑10||Peppermint Oil . National Institutes of Health.|
|↑11, ↑13||Duke, James A. The green pharmacy guide to healing foods: proven natural remedies to treat and prevent more than 80 common health concerns. Rodale, 2009.|
|↑12||Khalil, Amira Mohammed Saed Mohammed, and Rasha Mohamed Gamal. “Honey with lemon Improves Childrens Nocturnal Cough and their Sleep Quality as well as Their Parents.” International Journal 3, no. 6 (2015): 143-152.|
|↑15||Common cold. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑16, ↑17||How to boost your immune system. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑18||Mondal, Shankar, Saurabh Varma, Vishwa Deepak Bamola, Satya Narayan Naik, Bijay Ranjan Mirdha, Madan Mohan Padhi, Nalin Mehta, and Sushil Chandra Mahapatra. “Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 136, no. 3 (2011): 452-456.|
|↑19||Vouloumanou, Evridiki K., Gregory C. Makris, Drosos E. Karageorgopoulos, and Matthew E. Falagas. “Probiotics for the prevention of respiratory tract infections: a systematic review.” International journal of antimicrobial agents 34, no. 3 (2009): 197-e1.|
|↑20||Josling, Peter. “Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey.” Advances in therapy 18, no. 4 (2001): 189-193.|