Mucus refers to the secretion that is produced by the mucus membranes that line the sinuses, nose, mouth, throat, lungs and the gastrointestinal tract. The secretions from the mucus membranes in the nose humidify the inhaled air, and trap environmental irritants, allergens or pathogens. Phlegm, which is also referred to as sputum, is basically the congealed mucus that contains these irritants. Whenever congealed mucus gets accumulated in the throat or lungs, it needs to be coughed up. This is basically a way of expelling the irritants or disease-causing agents from the respiratory system. Though production of mucus is an immune response, persistent coughing that is caused due to excessive production of phlegm in throat or lungs is undoubtedly a very annoying problem.
At times, excessive amounts of mucus can block the airways and affect one's breathing. If a person has been persistently coughing up mucus, he/she must get a medical checkup done. In a majority of cases, pathogenic infections are responsible for the increased production of mucus. Given below is some information on the medical conditions that may be responsible for causing excessive production of phlegm.
Why Do We Need to Cough Up Mucus?
Though expectoration is a mechanism that the body employs for expelling foreign substances, it could sometimes be a symptom of a health problem. Scroll down to find out about the medical conditions that may cause accumulation of phlegm.
Pathogenic Infections: People suffering from viral or bacterial infections such as common cold or influenza may spit out mucus in the morning. Whenever such pathogens find a way into the nasal passages or the throat, the mucus membranes start producing large amounts of mucus. Mucus accumulates overnight, and when one wakes up, one needs to spit it out so as to clear the throat. Other conditions wherein one may experience excessive production of mucus include bronchitis, asthma, allergy or pneumonia. Inflammation of main airways is medically referred to as bronchitis. On the other hand, asthma is characterized by wheezing and breathing difficulties. Inhalation of allergens such as dust, chemicals or toxic fumes can also cause the airways to swell. This could trigger an asthma attack. Pneumonia is another pathogenic infection that is characterized by inflammation of the lungs. Accumulation of mucus in lungs can also be experienced by those suffering from sinusitis, strep throat, whooping cough or lung infections.
Lifestyle Choices: Heavy smokers might find themselves spitting out phlegm that is rusty-brown in color. Those who have recently quit smoking may also spit out brown or black mucus. It is normal for the body to expel tars and toxins that would have accumulated as a result of smoking. Alcohol has a drying effect on the membranes which is why the membranes start producing larger amounts of mucus to undo its effect. While smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol are poor lifestyle choices that may cause excessive phlegm, consumption of greasy deep-fried food items or food items one may be allergic to can also lead to the accumulation of mucus at the back of throat. Acid reflux disease could also cause phlegm. This is a condition wherein gastric juices from the stomach back up towards the esophagus. When larger amounts of saliva, gastric juices or mucus accumulates, it may give rise to phlegm in throat. Thus, people suffering from acid reflux may also need to spit out mucus more often.
Pathogenic infections emerge as the main contributory factor behind accumulation of mucus in throat or lungs which is why affected individuals must get a thorough medical checkup done. Doctors usually conduct chest X-rays, sputum analysis and blood tests to diagnose the underlying condition. Mucus color also provides valuable insights on the nature of infection. For instance, yellow or green mucus usually indicates viral or bacterial infections. While medical treatment usually involves the use of drugs, expectorants or decongestants, one can also try some remedies for getting rid of phlegm in throat. These remedies may help in loosening mucus. Here are some home remedies that may help to effectively expel phlegm.
- First of all, stay well-hydrated at all times. Increasing your fluid intake will help in loosening phlegm, thereby making it easier to spit it out.
- Another effective home remedy is to gargle with warm salt water. This will provide relief to your irritated throat.
- Steam inhalation is another effective home remedy. All you need to do is add a few drops of eucalyptus oil or tea tree oil to boiling water and inhale.
- You can also drink herbal tea to dislodge the mucus. Ginger tea is a great herbal infusion that helps to loosen mucus.
- Cut down on the consumption of meat and fried foods.
- Since smoking can cause excessive production of mucus, it would be a good idea to quit smoking. Cut down on your intake of alcohol and caffeinated drinks as well.
While production of mucus is a protective mechanism that the body employs to trap the pathogens or allergens, expectoration is a reflex action that helps to expel phlegm from the body. Though swallowing phlegm is not harmful, it would be best to avoid swallowing phlegm. While medical treatment or home remedies may help in expelling mucus, one must also make the right lifestyle choices so as to prevent the accumulation of phlegm in throat or lungs in future.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.