Natural and Medicinal Ways to Get Rid of Phlegm

By Robynn Lowe
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
August 10, 2022

Being sick can come with a variety of symptoms, and consistent coughing with phlegm can be one of the most unpleasant.

Don’t be mistaken: Phlegm isn’t always a bad thing.

In fact, our bodies produce this mucus to help trap particles and germs to keep us healthy.

However, too much phlegm is usually a sign of an infection and can be bothersome.

If you’re producing extra phlegm, there are ways to help your body get back to normal.

In this article, I’ll discuss how to get rid of phlegm, including natural ways to alleviate phlegm, home remedies and medication options.

How to Get Rid of Phlegm

If you have excess phlegm, some natural home remedies may help you get your body back to normal.

Here’s what the science says about some common treatments to get rid of phlegm.

Humidifier

Keeping the air around you moist may help prevent irritation of the nasal passages and loosen phlegm, allowing it to be coughed up more easily.

So try using a cool-mist humidifier, especially where you sleep, to add moisture to the air you breathe.

Gargle Salt Water

While there isn’t a lot of research on this remedy, swishing with salt water may help reduce inflammation in the throat.

Add half a teaspoon of salt to eight ounces of warm water and gargle the water in the back of your throat. As a bonus, this may help ease a sore throat.

Not feeling great? Chat with a medical provider using K Health.

Get Started

Stay Hydrated

Staying well hydrated can help keep mucus thin.

In particular, hot beverages and soup may help clear nasal phlegm.

If you like tea, add honey to help relieve excess coughing.

Over-the-counter (OTC) Medications

Some OTC medications can help relieve phlegm, but use these in moderation since phlegm production is a natural way for our bodies to fight off infection, and too much medication could impair this function.

  • Expectorants: Expectorants like guaifenesin (Mucinex) help thin phlegm, making it easier to blow out or cough up. 
  • Vapor rubs: Vapor rubs provide relief from coughs and chest congestion.
  • Decongestants: Decongestants that contain pseudoephedrine (like Sudafed) can dry out mucus in the chest, nose, and throat. 

Prescription Medications

If natural remedies to eliminate your phlegm are not working, see your medical provider about getting a prescription medication.

Prescription decongestants are stronger than OTC decongestants.

Your medical provider or pharmacist can discuss how often you take the medication. 

Prescription nasal sprays are also available. Typically these are for short-term use, no more than three days, as they can start to worsen congestion.

Limit Caffeine

Drinking caffeinated beverages makes you urinate more often and lose more water from your body. 

To keep phlegm thin, you need more water in your body. So try to limit the amount of caffeine you drink and drink other hydrating fluids instead. 

Blow Your Nose

Gently blowing your nose regularly helps to keep the phlegm moving and prevent buildup. 

Be sure to blow gently to prevent any damage to the sinuses. 

Coughing

While it can be a nuisance, coughing is the body’s way of clearing away excessive phlegm, so use cough suppressants sparingly.

Eucalyptus

Ointments and diluted essential oils containing eucalyptus are often used to help relieve congestion.

Rubbing either onto the chest or using one in a warm bath or diffuser may help reduce mucus and subdue coughs.

Stop Smoking

Smoking irritates the airways, triggering the lungs to produce more phlegm.

Lighting up also significantly increases the risk of conditions that lead to excess phlegm such as COPD and lung cancer.

Limit Alcohol Intake

Keep alcohol intake to a minimum, or better yet, avoid it altogether.

Excessive alcohol consumption leads to dehydration and also makes it harder to clear out phlegm.

Keep Your Head Elevated

A buildup of phlegm may make laying flat tricky. 

Rather than sleeping flat, try adding a wedge pillow under the mattress at the head of your bed. Stacking some books under your mattress can work too. 

Sleeping with your head elevated may help you breathe easier and cough less. 

Not feeling great? Chat with a medical provider using K Health.

Get Started

When to See a Medical Provider

Phlegm typically means that your body is doing its job of fighting off illness and infection, but in some cases, your doctor may need to intervene.

If you have tried the above treatments  but continue to produce excess phlegm, and this goes on for longer than two weeks, see a doctor.

Also contact a healthcare provider right away if your phlegm is any shade of red, black, or brown.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?

Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will phlegm go away on its own?
In many cases, phlegm will go away once your body has fought off an infection. In some cases, though, phlegm may be caused by a more serious issue that needs treatment.
What should you do if phlegm does not go away?
If the phlegm does not go away, contact your doctor. They can diagnose your condition based on the color of the phlegm and any other symptoms you are experiencing.
What happens if you leave phlegm untreated?
Phlegm may be an indicator of a more serious issue that needs to be addressed. It’s important to pay attention to how long your phlegm lasts and the color of it.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Robynn Lowe

Robynn Lowe is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years in the medical field. Robynn received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Florida Atlantic University and has been practicing in rural family medicine since. Robynn is married to her college sweetheart, Raymond and they have three awesome children. When Robynn isn't with patients you can find her shopping, coaching her kids sports teams, or spending time on the water.