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Phlegm is not a health problem but a symptom of some underlying respiratory infection, inflammation, allergy, or chronic respiratory illness.
The excessive presence of this sticky substance in your nose, throat, airways, and lungs does not, usually, pose any danger to your body but can give rise to breathing discomfort.
Here are a few home remedies, tips and techniques to reduce the secretion of phlegm without the use of medicines.
1. Gargle with warm salt water
Give your clogged throat a deep rinse with warm saline solution. The gentle heat and gargling action will help breakdown the phlegm inside your throat while the salt works as a disinfectant.
Once the phlegm loosens, it can easily be spat out with the water. Gargling also helps eliminate potential allergens such as dust, bacterial and fungal spores from the throat.
How to use:
- Add a quarter to a half teaspoon of table salt or sea salt to a cup of warm water.
- Stir the liquid until the salt dissolves completely.
- Check the temperature of the solution to make sure it won’t burn your mouth.
- Now take a sip of the solution, gargle with it for a few minutes and then spit it out.
2. Use a nasal saline spray or drops
Nasal sprays or drops can help relieve phlegm buildup inside your nose and restore proper breathing. They contain salt water which helps thin out and loosen the sinus mucus, making it easier to drain out of the nasal cavity.
Moreover, this hydrating solution helps rinse the nasal passages and keeps the mucus from crusting or solidifying.
How to use:
You can make your own nasal solution at home or buy one from the market. Here’s how to make it:
- Pour 1 cup (240 mL) of distilled water into a sterile bottle or container. In case you only have tap water available, boil it and then let it cool to room temperature before using it.
- Mix ½ tsp (2.5 g) salt and the same amount of baking soda into the water.
- Finally, pour this saline solution into the bottle and store it at room temperature. This solution will last you for 3 days.
3. Consume honey for phlegm-relief
How to use:
- You can consume a single tablespoon of raw honey.
- You can prepare a soothing tea by mixing a tablespoon of lemon juice with a tablespoon of honey and adding it to a glass of hot water.
4. Use curcumin medicinally
The main component of turmeric is curcumin, which is credited with significant anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce thick mucus hypersecretion and improve lung function, particularly in patients with asthma. (3)(4)
How to use:
- You can fry 6-12 g of turmeric powder in ghee and consume it to relieve asthma symptoms.
- You can mix some turmeric powder in warm milk and drink this tonic to curb phlegm secretion.
5. Ginger tea and candies may help
Nevertheless, there are countless users who have registered considerable relief after using this herb for addressing their phlegm-related complaints.
How to use:
- You can suck on a small chunk of raw ginger or candied ginger.
- Prepare a soothing cup of ginger tea by steeping the herb in hot water for a few minutes, and drink this beverage like a tonic to relieve phlegm-induced congestion.
6. Eat spicy foods
One simple way to ease phlegm removal is by consuming foods with a heavy dose of chili in it. The characteristic heat of chili peppers comes from their main bioactive component capsaicin.
This heat can help dissolve and loosen the thickened phlegm, making it easier to cough out. While capsaicin helps in thinning the mucus, it also stimulates the production of extra mucus resulting in an increasingly runny nose.
How to use:
- Include spicy foods in your regular diet, but only if you don’t have pre-existing gastrointestinal problems which can get exacerbated by increased chili intake.
7. Try breathing exercises
One oft-recommended breathing exercise for phlegm expulsion is the airway clearance technique, which involves drawing the phlegm to the back of your throat and then coughing it out.
Coughing is mostly an involuntary reflex to expel an irritant inside your respiratory tract, but it can be performed in a controlled manner to rid the lungs of excessive phlegm.
8. Practice huff coughing
This involves deeply inhaling air into your lungs, holding it in, and then actively exhaling to cough out the phlegm.
Drawing a deep breath and holding it in allows the air to get behind the phlegm and dislodge it from the lung walls. You can then expel the loosened phlegm from the lungs through forceful exhalation or coughing.
9. Steam with essential oils
Steam inhalation is a standard method for clearing phlegm buildup in the respiratory tract, but it might prove even more effective if you add a few drops of therapeutic essential oils to the water.
These oils are extracted from various medicinal plants and exhibit significant health-promoting effects which can facilitate faster recovery from chest congestion.
How to use:
- Boil some water and pour it in a clean bowl.
- Add a few drops of peppermint/chamomile/tea tree oil.
- Check the temperature of the steam to make sure it’s not too hot, and then hold your face above the bowl with a towel on top to keep the steam from escaping.
- Breathe in the vapors for a few minutes to loosen the phlegm and then cough it out later.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Phlegm
Here are a few self-care tips that can be incorporated in your daily routine to relieve phlegm buildup:
1. Increase fluid intake
Drink more fluids to water down the phlegm accumulated inside your airways for easy expulsion and to help your body fight the infection better. People who are on certain medications may need to hydrate even more than others.
Hot beverages seem to be more effective in diluting dense mucus secretions, but some work as diuretics that can increase urine output and dehydrate the body if consumed excessively. Thus, you have to consider all these factors and adjust your fluid intake accordingly.
You can benefit by cutting down on diuretic beverages such as coffee, alcohol, and some teas while increasing the intake of therapeutic teas and even warm water.
2. Elevate your head
Elevate your head to facilitate easy breathing while you sleep. Propping your head on a few extra pillows will exert a downward force on the phlegm collected inside your nasal passages to make space for the movement of air.
3. Use a humidifier
Use a humidifier to impart moisture to your arid living environment. Breathing in humid air helps hydrate your clogged throat and nasal passages. This, in turn, reduces and dilutes phlegm secretion. (6)
4. Clean and service the filters of your heating and cooling systems
Regularly clean and service the filters of your heating and cooling systems to keep them functioning properly.
An unclean or faulty filter allows dust and other potential irritants to enter your home and potentially trigger phlegm-inducing allergies.
5. Watch what you eat
Watch what you eat as certain foods can increase mucus secretions. You must identify your own problem foods, but experts generally recommend limiting the intake of dairy and greasy, sweet foods. (7)
6. Exercise regularly
Exercise to improve blood flow, immunity, and physical stamina, all of which play crucial roles in fighting infections that trigger phlegm production.
Moreover, the breathlessness caused by physical exertion forces your lungs to increase oxygen uptake. The forceful influx of air in the lungs dislodges the mucus settled on the airway walls, which can then be coughed out. (8)
7. Blow your nose gently
Blow your nose gently. Blowing the thick mucus too forcefully may hurt the sinuses, leading to pain, pressure, and possibly infection.
How to Prevent Phlegm Buildup?
Respiratory infections are commonly responsible for phlegm buildup. You can help prevent colds by doing your best to stay healthy and keep others healthy.
These are some of the things you can do to prevent excessive phlegm production:
- Practice proper hand hygiene, which entails frequently washing your hands with soap or cleaning them with an alcohol-based sanitizer, especially before eating or touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and discard it in the bin soon after. If you do not have a tissue available and are unable to hold your cough or sneeze, it is better to dunk your face in the bend of your elbow than to cover it with your hands. If you do use your hands, wash them with soap before touching anything else.
- Avoid active and passive smoking.
- Maintain a comfortable distance from people who have colds or other upper respiratory infections.
Most-Asked Questions About Phlegm
What is the difference between mucus and phlegm?
Mucus is a viscous liquid produced throughout the body by the mucous membranes (mucosa) lining the inner walls of various body cavities and passages, especially the ones that lead outside.
Its function is to hydrate and lubricate the walls of the organs, cavities, and passages and to fight infections.
Phlegm or sputum refers specifically to the abnormally dense mucus produced in the lungs and the lower respiratory tract during an infection, allergy, or some other chronic health condition.
What is postnasal drainage?
Mucus is naturally produced in the sinuses, nose, and throat for lubrication, fighting infections, and trapping dust and other external irritants.
People normally gulp down these runny secretions throughout the day without even realizing it, which is unlikely to cause any health problems.
However, when the mucus becomes dense or excessive (phlegm), as in the case of an infection or allergy, you can feel it trickling down the back of your nose into the throat.
This uncomfortable sensation is known as postnasal drip or drainage, which can trigger a cough, soreness in the throat, the frequent need to clear your throat, and the feeling of having a lump in the throat.
Why is there blood in my phlegm in the morning?
Coughing up blood-streaked phlegm in the morning is mostly the result of ruptured blood vessels in the lungs, which cause blood to seep out and mix with the mucus.
In such a case, it is important to consult your doctor to rule out any serious pulmonary damage. People who cough up substantial amounts of blood require immediate medical attention.
Phlegm, snot, or sputum production in the wake of a respiratory infection is a sign of a well-functioning immune system. It contains white blood cells and antibodies that fight the invading germs and stop the spread of the disease.
In most cases, the phlegm will clear up on its own once the cold or flu-like illness has run its course, which could take up to 3-4 weeks.
However, if you have a long-term illness, such as COPD or bronchitis, that makes phlegm a regular occurrence, the above-mentioned lifestyle and self-care measures can be especially useful in managing your respiratory distress.