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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While it can be a nuisance, coughing is the body’s way of clearing away excessive phlegm, so use cough suppressants sparingly.
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.
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.
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.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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Alcohol and Airways Function in Health and Disease. (2007).
Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Salt Water and Chlorhexidine 0.12% Mouthrinse After Periodontal Surgery: A Randomized Prospective Clinical Study. (2021).
Efficacy of Six Tasks to Clear Laryngeal Mucus Aggregation. (2016).
Immune-Modifying and Antimicrobial Effects of Eucalyptus Oil and Simple Inhalation Devices. (2010).
Marvels of Mucus and Phlegm. (2020).
What Does the Color of Phlegm Mean? (2017).