Phlegm is a type of mucus the body produces in the lungs and lower respiratory tract. It is most noticeable when a person is acutely sick or has a longstanding health condition.

Mucus forms a protective lining in certain body parts, even when an individual is healthy. Mucus keeps these areas from drying out and helps defend against invaders, including viruses and bacteria.

Infections, allergies, and smoking can cause excess mucus to build up in the body.

Keep reading to learn more about home remedies and medications that can help.

A person gargling with saltwater in a bathroomShare on Pinterest
Yagi-Studio/Getty Images

Consider the following steps to help eliminate excess mucus and phlegm:

1. Keep the air moist

Dry air irritates the nose and throat, causing more mucus to form as a lubricant. Placing a cool mist humidifier in the bedroom can promote better sleep by keeping the nose clear and preventing a sore throat.

Learn more about the uses of humidifiers here.

2. Drink plenty of fluids

The body needs to stay hydrated to keep mucus thin. When a person is sick with a cold, drinking extra fluids can thin mucus and help drain the sinuses.

People with seasonal allergies may also find that staying hydrated helps reduce congestion.

Find out what are the benefits of drinking water here.

3. Apply a warm, wet washcloth to the face

A warm, wet washcloth can be a soothing remedy for a pounding sinus headache. Inhaling through a damp cloth is a quick way to return moisture to the nose and throat. The heat will help to relieve pain and pressure.

Read more about remedies for sinus congestion here.

4. Keep the head elevated

When the buildup of mucus is particularly bothersome, it may help to sleep propped up on a few pillows or in a reclining chair. Lying flat can increase discomfort because it may feel like mucus is collecting at the back of the throat.

A person may also benefit from hypoallergenic pillows when elevated.

Find out what are the best types of hypoallergenic pillows here.

5. Do not suppress a cough

It may be tempting to use suppressants when experiencing a nagging, phlegm-filled cough. However, coughing is the body’s way of keeping secretions out of the lungs and throat. Use cough syrups sparingly, if at all.

Learn what natural cough remedies are here.

6. Discreetly get rid of phlegm

When phlegm rises from the lungs into the throat, the body is likely trying to remove it. Spitting it out is healthier than swallowing it.

Learn more about home care for phlegm here.

7. Use a saline nasal spray or rinse

A saline spray or irrigator can clear mucus and allergens from the nose and sinuses. Look for sterile sprays containing only sodium chloride, and use sterile or distilled water when rinsing.

Find out how to make a saline spray at home here.

8. Gargle with salt water

Saltwater can soothe an irritated throat and may help clear residual mucus. A person can add one teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle several times per day.

Read more about the guide to gargling with salt water here.

9. Use eucalyptus

Experts have used eucalyptus products for years to subdue coughs and reduce mucus. People usually apply them directly to the chest. A person can also add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a diffuser or a warm bath to help clear the nose.

Learn about the benefits of eucalyptus here.

10. Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke

Smoking and secondhand smoke cause the body to produce more phlegm and mucus.

Find out about the tips for giving up smoking here.

11. Minimize the use of decongestants

While they dry secretions and can alleviate a runny nose, decongestants may make it harder to get rid of phlegm and mucus.

Read on for the best decongestants by age here.

12. Keep allergies in check

Seasonal allergies can lead to a runny or stuffy nose, as well as excess mucus and phlegm.

Learn more about getting rid of allergies here.

13. Avoid irritants

Chemicals, fragrances, and pollution can irritate the nose, throat, and lower airways, which causes the body to produce more mucus.

Find out what are the common irritants and how to avoid them here.

14. Keep track of food reactions

Some foods can cause reactions that mimic seasonal allergies. They may cause the nose to run and the throat to itch, leading to excess mucus. Make a record of foods that trigger an increase in phlegm or mucus.

Read more about the common foods that cause allergies here.

15. Avoid alcohol and caffeine

Both substances lead to dehydration if a person consumes them in excess. When mucus and phlegm are an issue, drink plenty of warm, noncaffeinated beverages.

Learn more about caffeine here.

16. Take a hot bath or shower

Time spent in a steam-filled bathroom will help to loosen and clear mucus in the nose and throat. Allowing hot water to pulse on the face can also bring relief from sinus pressure.

Read on about the remedies for sinus pressure here.

17. Blow the nose gently

It may be tempting to keep blowing until thick mucus comes out. However, doing so too forcefully may hurt the sinuses, leading to pain, pressure, and possibly infection.

Find out how to get rid of a stuffy nose here.

18. Eat plenty of fruit

A diet rich in fruit and possibly soy fiber may lead to fewer respiratory problems that have a link to phlegm.

Read more about the healthiest fruits to eat here.

19. Avoid foods that cause acid reflux

Acid reflux can lead to an increase in phlegm and mucus. People prone to heartburn should avoid trigger foods and ask a doctor about proper management.

Find out what foods to avoid with acid reflux here.

There are many different medications available that can treat excess mucus buildup. One of the most popular of these is known as an expectorant.

Expectorants

Expectorants thin mucus and allow more effective coughing to clear airways. Guaifenesin is a common expectorant that is particularly effective at relieving congestion in the chest.

People first began using natural forms of guaifenesin in the 1500s. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved guaifenesin in 1952. Guaifenesin is the only expectorant available for over-the-counter (OTC) purchases in the United States.

Guaifenesin is available in multiple forms:

  • fast-acting tablets
  • extended-release tablets
  • liquid medications

Individuals taking medications with guaifenesin should stay hydrated and follow all doctor recommendations.

Other medications that treat mucus

The medication dornase alfa also works as an effective mucolytic. Individuals seeking mucus release can inhale this medication. This drug and other mucolytics can help to temporarily reduce mucus buildup throughout the airways.

Anyone seeking more information about medications treating mucus should consult a doctor. A medical professional can recommend the best medication for each case.

Treatments for mild cases

People with severe mucus buildup may need to visit a doctor for a prescription. However, for more mild cases, there are several OTC options.

Mucinex offers a number of products that help fight mucus. Its 12-hour expectorant features extended-release guaifenesin tablets for long-acting mucus relief.

Likewise, Robitussin offers an extra-strength syrup to treat phlegm and mucus. This syrup provides 6 hours of relief from mucus, congestion, and throat irritation.

In addition to guaifenesin, these tablets contain acetaminophen and pseudoephedrine hydrochloride for fever reduction and decongestion.

All of the medications above are available to purchase at local pharmacies.

Many believe that colored mucus coming from the nose indicates a bacterial infection. However, it may show that the immune system is fighting a virus or that a person is merely dehydrated.

A runny nose or feeling of stuffiness may also indicate allergies or a sinus infection. Individuals experiencing ongoing allergies or infections should visit a doctor. Severe allergies can require professional attention, and sinus infections may call for antibiotic treatment.

Individuals should also seek medical attention if they experience:

  • a cough lasting more than 10 days
  • nasal discharge that smells unpleasant
  • blurred vision with a stuffy nose
  • yellow or white spots on the back of the throat

There are many different reasons for phlegm and mucus in the body. However, in most cases, it is possible to find long-term relief.

Seasonal allergies may increase mucus production. OTC medications such as corticosteroids or antihistamines can keep allergy symptoms in check.

People with more severe allergies can also benefit from regular allergy shots. With the right medical supervision and treatment, most individuals will experience relief from allergy-related mucus.

The common cold may also lead to excess phlegm or mucus. On average, adults experience up to three colds each year. In the majority of cases, people recover from a cold within about a week.

Finally, regularly smoking tobacco can increase mucus and phlegm in the airways. However, a person may have restored mucus function in the lungs within about 1–12 months of quitting tobacco. Over time, mucus production can return to expected levels for people who quit smoking.

Excess phlegm and mucus may irritate in the short term, but OTC medications and lifestyle changes can ensure a positive outlook for most individuals.

Although excess mucus is generally not a serious problem, it may indicate a more serious condition in rare cases.

In most cases, phlegm and mucus are signs of a mild condition that home care should resolve. Home remedies or OTC medications can help relieve symptoms.

Phlegm and mucus may cause mild discomfort or annoyance in the short term, but they generally do not cause serious concern with suitable care.

Individuals who experience phlegm, mucus, and other associated symptoms should consult a doctor. Allergy treatments or antibiotics may be necessary to address underlying conditions.