Do you feel you have constant phlegm at the back of your throat?
You’re probably wondering what exactly is causing this build-up of gunk to hang around in your airways?
In this post, we uncover the important purpose of this gooey substance and if clearing your throat continuously just isn’t cutting it, you may be interested in our handy tips on how to get rid of phlegm, including foods that can help.
Phlegm is a jelly-like liquid that you cough up from your lungs.Compared to the mucus that’s excreted from your nasal passages (what we commonly refer to as snot), it’s a thicker, stickier substance.
With every breath in, you potentially inhale dust, debris, allergens, pollutants and viruses.The primary purpose of the gluey mucus in your airways is to trap as many of these irritating particles as possible. Then, phlegm becomes the vehicle for their exit from the lower respiratory tract.
In short, this icky substance helps to keep your lungs clear of the germs that enter your airways.1
So, you’re probably wondering how to get rid of throat mucus? First of all, you don’t necessarily have to do anything. In most cases, phlegm is normal and helps with the healthy function of your respiratory system. Nevertheless, many people find dealing with a surplus of throat mucus unpleasant.
Fortunately, if you want to thin it or remove it from your body, there are a number of things you can do.
By not drinking enough fluid, you could be making it easier for excess phlegm to build up in your airways.
Sipping on water, juice or even chicken soup can help make mucus looser and keep it moving. This can help flush out any excess phlegm that’s built up in your respiratory system.2
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Studies show smoking cigarettes can cause the body to produce more phlegm.3
This link suggests quitting the habit could support the mucus clearing process.
If you’ve got a blockage of mucus in your nose or throat, you could try clearing it using nasal spray. These can either be medicated or simply a sterilised saline solution.
A dry environment can contribute to the build-up and thickness of phlegm, so introducing extra moisture may help.4
For example, you could try using a humidifier or taking a streamy shower to open up and moisturise airways. The steam could also aid with breaking down thick mucus making it easier to cough it up.5
Another way to combat the irritating effects of breathing in dry air is to use a warm compress.
For example, breathing through a warm wet cloth provides a moist heat source that can help with thinning mucus.6
Gargling water is thought to helps loosen mucus so it’s easier to get rid of phlegm.
In fact, a study found this simple home remedy could help to prevent upper respiratory tract infections.7
Drinking a lot of either of these beverages can cause dehydration. This will lead to lower moisture levels throughout your body.
If you’re struggling with phlegm, instead choose warm, non-caffeinated drinks.
As it says on the tin, these are designed to decongest your nasal passages.
If you have a persistent cold and phlegm that refuses to budge, it might be time to make a trip to your local pharmacy to pick up a decongestant or vapor rub.
Although the science to support it isn’t conclusive, many people will swear that applying eucalyptus to the chest helps to relieve discomfort from a build-up of mucus.
Alternatively, you could try adding a few drops of oil to a diffuser or a warm bath.
What you eat can encourage phlegm to thrive. Dairy products, certain grains, sugary treats, red meat, and caffeinated drinks are all examples of foods that have the potential to ramp up mucus production8. In addition, allergy-triggering foods are also common culprits.
So, for some people, eating eggs, wheat, dairy, tree nuts and gluten will be linked to a rise in mucus8. However, some foods can help in your fight against phlegm.
This spicy root has natural anti-inflammatory properties10. Drinking a few cups of ginger tea is a pleasant way to open up inflamed airways and help your body flush out excess mucus.
Being rich in water, potassium, and vitamin C, cucumber offers a helping hand with cleansing the body of excess mucus.
The bromelain in pineapple offers up a powerful antidote to inflammation which could help open clogged up airways.11
With an ample supply of the bioflavonoid quercetin, onions have a lot to offer when it comes to breaking down mucus and flushing out phlegm.12
Broccoli is fibre rich, which a 2004 study showed can be a valuable asset when it comes to reducing mucus levels in the body.13
Certain fruits and vegetables, such as garlic, come with extra phlegm-reducing qualities.
For example, Centers for Respiratory Health lists watercress, celery, garlic, pickles, onions, lemons and parsley in its anti-mucus food list.14
It can be used as a natural decongestant. In addition, apple cider vinegar comes with some punchy, soothing properties.
It also supports your efforts to reduce excessive phlegm production.
The curcumin in turmeric can help fight off infection that may be triggering mucus production.
It’s also shown to aid with decongesting airways, supporting the excretion of excess mucus.15
Warm fluids are a great dietary asset in the fight against phlegm.
They can help break-up mucus, promote hydration and flush out toxins.16
As a result, clear broth soups (so no dairy) and teas (caffeine-free naturally) can be great for getting gunk off your chest.
Take a deep breath.
Hold it for a few seconds.
Use your abs to push out the air.17
A certain amount of mucus is needed by our bodies, but too much can be uncomfortable. There are a number of reasons why you may produce excessive phlegm.
A surge in phlegm production is most often an immune response in reaction to a respiratory infection (such as the common cold).18
For example, when suffering with a cold, your body produces more mucus as it’s forced to work harder to trap and expel an influx of infection-spreading invaders19 but other causes of phlegm are an allergic reaction or a response to irritation of some kind in your airways.20
For example, this could be contact with an allergen or exposure to cigarette smoke. People with asthma can also find they cough up lots of phlegm and it’s occasionally a sign of a more serious condition.
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If your body produces too much phlegm, you may feel it rise into your throat. This creates the feeling of excess mucus in your throat.
To get the bad stuff away from your lungs, phlegm has to keep moving. Tiny hairlike structures called cilia cover the inside of your lungs.
It’s their job to persistently usher mucus out of the respiratory tract.
As a result, the gloop often ends up being forced upwards, becoming throat phlegm. This process is officially called mucociliary clearance.21
As your body thrusts excess mucus up and out of your respiratory system, you’ll probably want to hack it up, spit it into a tissue and throw it in a bin.
Hence that feeling of wanting to clear your throat continuously.
It may not be pleasant, but the good news is by doing this, you’re helping the phlegm protect your lungs from further infection.
While you’re still and sleeping, phlegm can pool and settle in your lungs and throat. Once you become active in the morning, it breaks up and starts to move again.
This can cause you to cough up the excess phlegm that’s gathered overnight.22
Do you feel congested after drinking alcohol?
Regular or heavy drinking could mean your mucociliary transport system isn’t clearing mucus out of your airways as efficiently as it should.
This makes it harder for you to keep a healthy airway, encouraging a build-up of phlegm.23
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To fulfil an infection-fighting role, your body constantly produces phlegm. For context, our lungs create about 100 millilitres of this mucus per day – that’s just slightly less than a third of a can of fizzy drink.24 but it’s often only when you’re not feeling well that you notice it.
In this article, we’ve talked about what causes excess mucus in the throat and how to get rid of phlegm in a range of different ways. This included dietary ideas, as well as some other ways to help jam the brakes on spiraling mucus production.
But how can you reduce phlegm in the future? Producing excess mucus is most often caused by a cold-like infection. So, the most obvious answer to how to reduce phlegm is to give your immune system the best support you can to fight off infection.
Many of the anti-mucus foods we mentioned above, are a great basis for supporting a healthy immune system. But if you don’t think you can get the nourishment you need from diet alone, why not check out our guide to supporting your immune system?
Everything you need to know about how to support your immune system, with tips on diet, vitamins and minerals, and exercise.
Last updated: 02 August 2022
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.