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man gargling to get rid of phlegm

9 ways to get rid of phlegm

07 Sep 2022 • 4 min read

Do you feel you have constant phlegm at the back of your throat?

You’re probably wondering what exactly is causing this build-up of gunk to hang around in your airways?

In this post, we uncover the important purpose of this gooey substance and if clearing your throat continuously just isn’t cutting it, you may be interested in our handy tips on how to get rid of phlegm, including foods that can help.

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What is phlegm?

Phlegm is a jelly-like liquid that you cough up from your lungs.Compared to the mucus that’s excreted from your nasal passages (what we commonly refer to as snot), it’s a thicker, stickier substance.

With every breath in, you potentially inhale dust, debris, allergens, pollutants and viruses.The primary purpose of the gluey mucus in your airways is to trap as many of these irritating particles as possible. Then, phlegm becomes the vehicle for their exit from the lower respiratory tract.

In short, this icky substance helps to keep your lungs clear of the germs that enter your airways.1

Summary

  • Phlegm is a thick, gluey mucus produced by your lungs
  • Its primary purpose is to trap virus-carrying bacteria, germs and allergens
  • This helps to keep your lungs clear of these unwanted invaders

How to get rid of phlegm in the throat

So, you’re probably wondering how to get rid of throat mucus? First of all, you don’t necessarily have to do anything. In most cases, phlegm is normal and helps with the healthy function of your respiratory system. Nevertheless, many people find dealing with a surplus of throat mucus unpleasant.

Fortunately, if you want to thin it or remove it from your body, there are a number of things you can do.

9 ways to get rid of phlegm

  1. Drink lots of fluids

By not drinking enough fluid, you could be making it easier for excess phlegm to build up in your airways.

Sipping on water, juice or even chicken soup can help make mucus looser and keep it moving. This can help flush out any excess phlegm that’s built up in your respiratory system.2

Handpicked content: 13 easy ways to drink more water

  1. If you smoke, stop

Studies show smoking cigarettes can cause the body to produce more phlegm.3

This link suggests quitting the habit could support the mucus clearing process.

  1. Use a nasal spray or solution

If you’ve got a blockage of mucus in your nose or throat, you could try clearing it using nasal spray. These can either be medicated or simply a sterilised saline solution.

  1. Invest in a humidifier

A dry environment can contribute to the build-up and thickness of phlegm, so introducing extra moisture may help.4

For example, you could try using a humidifier or taking a streamy shower to open up and moisturise airways. The steam could also aid with breaking down thick mucus making it easier to cough it up.5

  1. Apply a warm compress

Another way to combat the irritating effects of breathing in dry air is to use a warm compress.

For example, breathing through a warm wet cloth provides a moist heat source that can help with thinning mucus.6

  1. Gargle salt water

Gargling water is thought to helps loosen mucus so it’s easier to get rid of phlegm.

In fact, a study found this simple home remedy could help to prevent upper respiratory tract infections.7

  1. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine

Drinking a lot of either of these beverages can cause dehydration. This will lead to lower moisture levels throughout your body.

If you’re struggling with phlegm, instead choose warm, non-caffeinated drinks.

  1. Try a decongestant

As it says on the tin, these are designed to decongest your nasal passages.

If you have a persistent cold and phlegm that refuses to budge, it might be time to make a trip to your local pharmacy to pick up a decongestant or vapor rub.

  1. Use eucalyptus as a natural alternative

Although the science to support it isn’t conclusive, many people will swear that applying eucalyptus to the chest helps to relieve discomfort from a build-up of mucus.

Alternatively, you could try adding a few drops of oil to a diffuser or a warm bath.

9 foods that get rid of phlegm

What you eat can encourage phlegm to thrive. Dairy products, certain grains, sugary treats, red meat, and caffeinated drinks are all examples of foods that have the potential to ramp up mucus production8. In addition, allergy-triggering foods are also common culprits.

So, for some people, eating eggs, wheat, dairy, tree nuts and gluten will be linked to a rise in mucus8. However, some foods can help in your fight against phlegm.

  1. Ginger

This spicy root has natural anti-inflammatory properties10. Drinking a few cups of ginger tea is a pleasant way to open up inflamed airways and help your body flush out excess mucus.

  1. Cucumber

Being rich in water, potassium, and vitamin C, cucumber offers a helping hand with cleansing the body of excess mucus. 

  1. Pineapple

The bromelain in pineapple offers up a powerful antidote to inflammation which could help open clogged up airways.11

  1. Onions

With an ample supply of the bioflavonoid quercetin, onions have a lot to offer when it comes to breaking down mucus and flushing out phlegm.12

  1. Broccoli

Broccoli is fibre rich, which a 2004 study showed can be a valuable asset when it comes to reducing mucus levels in the body.13

  1. Garlic

Certain fruits and vegetables, such as garlic, come with extra phlegm-reducing qualities.

For example, Centers for Respiratory Health lists watercress, celery, garlic, pickles, onions, lemons and parsley in its anti-mucus food list.14

  1. Apple cider vinegar

It can be used as a natural decongestant. In addition, apple cider vinegar comes with some punchy, soothing properties.

It also supports your efforts to reduce excessive phlegm production.

  1. Turmeric

The curcumin in turmeric can help fight off infection that may be triggering mucus production.

It’s also shown to aid with decongesting airways, supporting the excretion of excess mucus.15

  1. Broth soups

Warm fluids are a great dietary asset in the fight against phlegm.

They can help break-up mucus, promote hydration and flush out toxins.16

As a result, clear broth soups (so no dairy) and teas (caffeine-free naturally) can be great for getting gunk off your chest.

Summary

  • What you eat can influence phlegm production
  • Some foods, such as dairy products, encourage mucus to thrive
  • Foods with anti-inflammatory properties can help with opening clogged up airways
  • Certain fruits and vegetables also aid with reducing and breaking down thick mucus

How to cough up phlegm in throat

As a general rule, try not to hack. Also, resist the urge to constantly clear your throat as a way of clearing throat mucus.

Instead, try the following coughing technique to help with getting rid of phlegm.

A deep cough method for mucus clearing

woman coughing to get rid of phlegm in throat

1

Take a deep breath. 

2

Hold it for a few seconds. 

3

Use your abs to push out the air.17

Summary

  • Phlegm helps with the healthy function of the respiratory system, but some people find dealing with it unpleasant
  • There are a number of things you can do to make it easier to get rid of phlegm
  • Introducing moisture is the key to thinning gloopy mucus so that it can flow with more ease
  • A deep cough can also help get rid of phlegm without hacking and continuous throat clearing

What causes phlegm?

A certain amount of mucus is needed by our bodies, but too much can be uncomfortable. There are a number of reasons why you may produce excessive phlegm.

A surge in phlegm production is most often an immune response in reaction to a respiratory infection (such as the common cold).18

For example, when suffering with a cold, your body produces more mucus as it’s forced to work harder to trap and expel an influx of infection-spreading invaders19 but other causes of phlegm are an allergic reaction or a response to irritation of some kind in your airways.20

For example, this could be contact with an allergen or exposure to cigarette smoke. People with asthma can also find they cough up lots of phlegm and it’s occasionally a sign of a more serious condition.   

Summary

  • Phlegm is thicker and stickier than the type of mucus that’s produced in your nasal passages
  • Excess phlegm is often produced in response to a respiratory infection
  • Your body may also produce more of this mucus in reaction to exposure to an allergen or a pollutant

How much water should I be drinking each day?

We’ve all heard that we should drink eight glasses of water a day, but is there any truth to this? We take a closer look to separate the myths from the fact.

What is excess mucus in our throat?

If your body produces too much phlegm, you may feel it rise into your throat. This creates the feeling of excess mucus in your throat.

Why do we get phlegm in our throat?

To get the bad stuff away from your lungs, phlegm has to keep moving. Tiny hairlike structures called cilia cover the inside of your lungs.

It’s their job to persistently usher mucus out of the respiratory tract.

As a result, the gloop often ends up being forced upwards, becoming throat phlegm. This process is officially called mucociliary clearance.21

Why am I clearing my throat constantly?

As your body thrusts excess mucus up and out of your respiratory system, you’ll probably want to hack it up, spit it into a tissue and throw it in a bin.

Hence that feeling of wanting to clear your throat continuously.

It may not be pleasant, but the good news is by doing this, you’re helping the phlegm protect your lungs from further infection.

Summary

  • If your body produces too much phlegm, it can be thrust up into your throat
  • This mucociliary clearance process is a way your body defends your lungs from infection
  • The presence of mucus in your throat will probably prompt throat clearing
  • It may also cause you to cough phlegm up

Why do I get phlegm in my throat every morning?

While you’re still and sleeping, phlegm can pool and settle in your lungs and throat. Once you become active in the morning, it breaks up and starts to move again.

This can cause you to cough up the excess phlegm that’s gathered overnight.22

Excess mucus after drinking alcohol

Do you feel congested after drinking alcohol?

Regular or heavy drinking could mean your mucociliary transport system isn’t clearing mucus out of your airways as efficiently as it should.

This makes it harder for you to keep a healthy airway, encouraging a build-up of phlegm.23

Handpicked content: Alcohol - How much is too much?

Is it normal to have phlegm everyday?

To fulfil an infection-fighting role, your body constantly produces phlegm. For context, our lungs create about 100 millilitres of this mucus per day – that’s just slightly less than a third of a can of fizzy drink.24 but it’s often only when you’re not feeling well that you notice it.

Summary

  • To keep us healthy, our lungs constantly produce phlegm
  • But most of us will only notice it when mucus production increases when we’re not feeling well
  • Some people find they need to clear their throat more in the morning
  • Heavy drinking may cause a build-up of phlegm

The final say

In this article, we’ve talked about what causes excess mucus in the throat and how to get rid of phlegm in a range of different ways. This included dietary ideas, as well as some other ways to help jam the brakes on spiraling mucus production.

But how can you reduce phlegm in the future? Producing excess mucus is most often caused by a cold-like infection. So, the most obvious answer to how to reduce phlegm is to give your immune system the best support you can to fight off infection.

Many of the anti-mucus foods we mentioned above, are a great basis for supporting a healthy immune system. But if you don’t think you can get the nourishment you need from diet alone, why not check out our guide to supporting your immune system? 

Guide to supporting your immune system

Everything you need to know about how to support your immune system, with tips on diet, vitamins and minerals, and exercise. 

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 02 August 2022

Sources

  1. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2020/08/marvels-mucus-phlegm
  2. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/7-ways-to-combat-coughs-and-colds
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53021/
  4. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002104.htm
  5. https://www.nhsfife.org/media/35666/steam-inhalation-leaflet.pdf
  6. https://vicks.com/en-us/treatments/how-to-treat-sinus-and-nasal-congestion/chest-congestion-remedies-to-help-you-feel-better
  7. http://https//pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16242593/
  8. https://www.verywellhealth.com/five-techniques-to-clear-mucus-from-the-lungs-914841
  9. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/7-ways-to-combat-coughs-and-colds
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4752725/
  11. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergic-rhinitis/
  12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/mucociliary-clearance
  13. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/mucociliary-transport
  14. https://www.premierhealth.com/your-health/articles/women-wisdom-wellness-/mucus-and-phlegm-barometers-of-your-health
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53021/
  16. https://www.livestrong.com/article/496916-foods-that-encourage-phlegm/
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3529416/
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808895/
  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15117740/
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5378048
  22. https://www.mucinex.com/blogs/excess-mucus-symptoms/why-do-i-keep-coughing-up-mucus-at-night
  23. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/mi/2019/4927430/
  24. https://www.livestrong.com/article/107908-antimucus-diet/
 
bhupesh-panchal

Bhupesh Panchal

Author

Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: April 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
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