What causes excess mucus and phlegm and how to ease it?

Mucus is a vital part of your immune system. It lines your nose, mouth, throat, and lungs to help protect them from infection.

Phlegm is a specific form of mucus produced in the lungs and respiratory tracts. It's similar to the mucus in your throat and nose but thicker.

Both mucus and phlegm help carry dirt, debris and bacteria away from the nose and lungs to try and prevent illnesses. But too much mucus in one area can create discomfort and other problems.

In this article:

  • Phlegm in throat

  • How to ease phlegm in throat

  • Phlegm in chest

  • How to ease phlegm in chest

  • Mucus colour and what it could mean

  • How to ease phlegm with SUDAFED®

  • Frequently asked questions

Phlegm in throat

Phlegm is a natural part of your body's defence against illness. When your immune system is triggered it can cause an overproduction of phlegm, causing a build-up in your throat.

The most common health conditions that can lead to an overproduction of phlegm include:

  • Common cold or flu

  • Allergies

  • Asthma

  • Acid reflux

Your body might also start to produce excess mucus because of several environmental factors. These can include:

  • Dry air indoors

  • Dehydration

  • High fluid consumption that can lead to fluid loss such as coffee, tea and alcohol

If you have excess mucus in your throat, it can feel as though something is stuck. You may also get a tickling sensation that causes you to cough or feel like you need to clear your throat.

How to ease phlegm in throat

If excess phlegm is causing you discomfort, there are a few things you can try to remove phlegm from your throat.

Use an air humidifier

Dry air can irritate your nose and throat, causing your body to increase mucus production to provide more lubricant for your nose and throat linings. Using a humidifier in your bedroom at night or in a room where you spend a lot of time can add moisture to the air and reduce irritation.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids can help to thin out any excess mucus and reduce irritation in your throat. By thinning the mucus in your throat and nose, it becomes easier for your body to drain it.

Over-the-counter decongestants

Decongestant medications work to decrease swelling in your nose and open up your airways. Over-the-counter decongestants can reduce the amount of mucus that flows from your nose into your throat. Mucus from your nose isn't phlegm, but it can reach your throat and chest, causing congestion.

Don't suppress a cough

Coughing is your body's natural way of trying to remove phlegm from your throat and chest. Suppressing a cough will keep the phlegm where it is, instead of letting your body get rid of it.

Spit it out

It's not pretty, but if you can, try to spit out any phlegm into a tissue and dispose of it.

When phlegm ends up in your mouth, it may be because your body is trying to remove it. Spitting it out should be more helpful than simply trying to swallow it back down.

Gargling salt water

Gargling warm salt water can help shift phlegm from the back of your throat. It can even kill some germs and soothe your throat if it's sore.

To gargle salt water and encourage the removal of phlegm:

  • Mix half a teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water.

  • Sip the mixture and tilt your head back slightly.

  • Let the salty water wash into your throat without drinking it.

  • Gently gargle for 30 to 60 seconds, and then spit out the water.

  • Repeat as needed.

Avoiding cigarette smoke

Smoking and breathing in second-hand smoke can irritate and damage your throat lining, causing your body to produce more mucus. Avoiding smoking in all forms can help keep your mucus levels normal.

Eucalyptus oil

Eucalyptus oil can help subdue coughs and reduce mucus. You can usually apply them directly to your chest or add a few drops to your diffuser or warm bath.

Phlegm in chest

It's normal to have a small amount of phlegm in your chest to help protect your lungs from infections. But if the amount of phlegm builds up it can be uncomfortable and lead to problems like:

  • Wheezing

  • A sore throat

  • Sleep difficulties

Mucus in chest that won’t come up

If you regularly get an uncomfortable amount of phlegm in your chest, it could be a sign of something more serious. Repeated build-ups of phlegm in your chest could be linked to:

  • Acid reflux

  • Allergies

  • Asthma

  • Bacterial and viral infections

  • Chronic bronchitis

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Other lung conditions.

If you are concerned about build-up of mucus in your chest, or have suffered from this for more than a few weeks, speak to your doctor.

How to ease phlegm in chest

If you experience chest congestion, there are a few things you can try for removing phlegm from your chest.

Warm drinks

Drinking plenty of fluids can help thin mucus and phlegm, making it easier for your body to remove them. Warm drinks have the extra benefit of helping provide sustained relief from many congestion symptoms, including:

  • Sneezing

  • Chills

  • Sore throat

Try drinking herbal teas, warm water and broths to help ease your chest.

Steam inhalation

Steam adds moisture to the air, which is easier on your chest when you breathe in. Plus, the warmth from the steam can help to soften and dislodge any phlegm caught in your chest.

Salt water

Although salt water rinses will mainly tackle any phlegm in the back of your throat, it can also help reduce a build-up in your chest. If you have excess phlegm in your throat, there's a chance that it could drop to your chest and start causing problems there.

Essential oils

Some essential oils are believed to help ease chest congestion by loosening the phlegm on your chest. These oils include:

  • Basil

  • Cinnamon bark

  • Eucalyptus

  • Lemongrass

  • Peppermint

  • Rosemary

  • Tea tree

  • Thyme

  • Oregano.

When using essential oils, you can:

  • Add them to a diffuser

  • Add a few drops to a warm bath or bowl of warm water and inhale the steam.

Keep your head up

Keeping your head elevated can help your body drain mucus from your nasal passages more effectively, so that it doesn't go to your chest. Sleeping in an elevated position can also help ease some of the pressure on your chest caused by excess phlegm, making it easier for you to get a good night's rest.


While nasal decongestants won't necessarily help your chest directly, they can work to reduce mucus build-up in your nose by encouraging your airways to open.

This can reduce the amount of mucus dripping down your throat and onto your chest.

Mucus colour and what it could mean

When blowing your nose or coughing up phlegm and mucus, it might look different to what you expect. The colour of your mucus can usually give you some idea of what the cause is and how you could treat it.

Clear mucus

Clear mucus is typically normal. This regular mucus is made from water, proteins, antibodies, and salts and dissolves once it reaches your stomach.

Your body continually creates this mucus to line your nose and throat to protect against irritants, bacteria and viruses. Hay fever can also cause a clear nasal discharge if a runny nose is a symptom of your allergic reaction to pollen.

White mucus

If you're suffering from a blocked nose or congestion, the mucus from your nose or that you cough up may be thicker or whiter. This is because the mucus contains less water than normal, making it appear cloudy.

You can help to thin out the mucus and return it to its clear colour by drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Yellow mucus

Yellow mucus is usually a sign that you have a virus or other infection and that your body is fighting it. The yellow colour comes from an increase in white blood cells trying to combat the germs.

Green mucus

If your immune system needs to take things up a notch to fight a particularly tricky infection, you might develop a green mucus that's especially thick. The green tinge comes from the white blood cells and waste that your body filters out through the mucus.

Green snot shouldn't be a cause to see your doctor straight away. But, if you've had the infection for 12 days or more, you may want to consider checking it's nothing serious.

Pink or bloody mucus

If there's blood in your mucus, your snot will likely turn a pink or red colour. This may happen if you blew your nose too hard or were hit in the face.

Pregnant women may get blood in their nasal mucus because of hormonal changes, which shouldn't be a cause for concern. If the bleeding doesn't stop, or you are concerned, contact your doctor or midwife.

If you have a child who regularly gets blood in their mucus or has repeated nose bleeds, you should speak with their doctor.

How to ease phlegm with SUDAFED®

SUDAFED® can help treat excess mucus and phlegm to make it easier and more comfortable to breathe through your nose.

Our mucus relief triple action tablets contain guaifenesin, which helps to loosen the mucus in your chest. They also contain phenylephrine to soothe swelling in your nasal passages, making it easier to breathe through your nose freely without a stuffy, congested feeling.

You can also try our decongestant tablets that contain pseudoephedrine hydrochloride. They offer highly effective relief for nose and sinus congestion to help your body drain mucus properly.

SUDAFED® is the most popular selling decongestant brand on the market.* We've been working on pioneering, clinically proven treatments for decongestants for over 30 years to help everyone breathe through their nose with ease.

*For verification please contact 01344 864042


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