Mucus production is natural. However, overproduction of mucus in the throat can lead to long-term coughing and throat irritation.
Goblet cells in the membranes of the sinuses, throat, and lungs produce mucus. It contains water, mucin, and antimicrobial molecules and helps remove particles, protect the tissues, and reduce infection. Typically, the glands in the throat and nose may produce 1–2 quarts of mucus daily.
However, in some cases, the body can overproduce mucus. Overproduction of mucus can lead to excessive coughing, irritation, and possibly interfere with breathing. Learning the cause of excess mucus helps doctors determine the appropriate treatment.
This article covers why someone may have an overproduction of mucus in the throat and how to manage it.
Regular mucus production in the throat, sinuses, and lungs is natural. However, certain conditions and environmental factors can cause excess mucus in the throat.
When something irritates the membranes in the sinuses or throat, it can lead to an overproduction of mucus. An infection can also trigger the submucosal glands to make more mucus, leading to an accumulation of mucus in the throat.
In some cases, lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can also produce excess mucus. The mucus originates in the airways and lungs. However, an individual may not effectively expel the mucus through coughing, which allows it to pool in the back of the throat.
Many health conditions and factors can lead to irritation or infection and cause an increase in mucus production in the throat, including:
- allergies and irritants that lead to inflammation and increased mucus
- upper respiratory infections, such as the flu or a cold
- cold air, which may irritate the throat, causing an overproduction of mucus
- lung conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis cause lung phlegm, which pools in the throat
- acid reflux, which may irritate the throat and lead to increased mucus
- neuromuscular diseases, which might impair a person’s cough reflex causing mucus to accumulate
Medications are available to help manage the overproduction of mucus in the throat. Doctors may recommend different classifications of medications depending on the cause of excess mucus.
Medication options include:
- Expectorants: Over-the-counter (OTC) options, such as Mucinex, help loosen the mucus so someone can cough it up easier.
- Decongestants: These may help dry up excess mucus. However, due to the drying, they can make it more difficult to expel mucus through coughing.
- Mucolytics: These drugs thin mucus,
which makesit easier to get it out of the throat. Both OTC and prescription mucolytics are available. Mucolytics include:
- dornase alfa
- hypertonic saline
An individual can speak with a healthcare professional about medication options to reduce mucus production.
Several self-care tips may help manage excess mucus in the throat. A combination of strategies may be the most effective.
Self-care tips to help with excess mucus include:
- Managing allergies: Managing allergies well may reduce symptoms, such as mucus production. Avoid exposure to allergens, take antihistamines, and use a nasal steroid spray.
- Drinking plenty of water: Staying well-hydrated can help prevent mucus in the throat from being too thick. Thick mucus is more difficult to expel.
- Rinsing the sinuses with a neti pot: Mucus can drip from the sinuses and pool in the throat. Rinsing the sinuses with a neti pot may help flush out excess mucus. It also may remove allergens that lead to an overproduction of mucus. The
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)recommends only rinsing the sinuses with sterile, distilled, or previously boiled water to prevent contamination.
- Trying honey: Honey may not affect the amount of mucus, but it may help soothe the throat and reduce coughing associated with phlegm. A 2021 review of studies found that honey was effective in suppressing cough and reducing the need for antibiotics in people with an upper respiratory infection.
- Considering a positive expiratory pressure (PEP) device: This
involves blowinginto a small device that delivers vibration and expiratory pressure to the throat and lungs. It does not help reduce mucus production but may help loosen mucus to expel it from the throat through coughing.
The following are some questions people often ask about mucus.
When should I worry about mucus in my throat?
The amount, color, and texture of the mucus in the throat can help someone determine if excess mucus is due to an infection. If the mucus has any of the following characteristics, it is best to contact a healthcare professional:
- very thick mucus
- green or yellow mucus
- continued increased mucus
- mucus that interferes with breathing
These can also occur due to a cold or viral sinusitis. However, if an individual has any concerns about their mucus production or other symptoms, they should contact a healthcare professional.
What illnesses cause mucus in the throat?
Various conditions can cause mucus in the throat, including acute infections and long-term lung diseases. These may include:
Why do I have so much phlegm in my throat all the time?
If someone has phlegm in their throat all the time, it may occur due to a long-term condition, such as acid reflux, postnasal drip, or allergies. Overproduction of mucus also
Mucus production in the throat is natural and helps protect the tissues and prevent infection. However, certain conditions and factors can lead to an overproduction of mucus, such as infections, allergies, and smoking.
Treating the underlying cause of excess mucus helps reduce the production. Additional ways to decrease mucus include drinking plenty of water, taking medications to dry mucus, and using a PEP device to clear mucus out of the throat.
If mucus production of mucus continues to increase, is green or yellow, or is very thick, a person may want to consider contacting a healthcare professional.