The average person produces about 1.5 quarts of mucus a day. Mucus is a fact of life and vital to our health. It plays a role in several bodily functions, including digestion and the immune system. But mucus can also cause discomfort, embarrassment, and even severe health complications.
In this article, we focus on managing one type of mucus: phlegm. Phlegm is mucus produced by the respiratory system. It’s phlegm that makes you want to clear your throat or cough. It’s phlegm that causes nasal drip, mucus that gathers in the back of your nose and throat when you’re trying to sleep. And it’s excessive or overly viscous phlegm that causes sore throats in many people and life-threatening infections in people with cystic fibrosis.
What Causes Excess Phlegm
Many factors may cause the production of excess phlegm:
- Infections such as colds, flu, and bronchitis.
- Allergic rhinitis, in which the respiratory system has an allergic reaction to an allergen such as pollen. Severe and persistent rhinitis can lead to long-term sleeping problems.
- Acid reflux.
- Lung conditions such as cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
People with these and related conditions produce more phlegm than average. Excessive phlegm production makes it difficult to sleep comfortably, causes coughing and sore throats, and can be a factor in increased lung, throat, and ear infections.
How To Manage Phlegm
The first stage in dealing with phlegm is to seek medical advice. Talking to your doctor is important if you notice that your body produces excess mucus for longer than a month. You should also speak to a medical professional if the phlegm is thicker than usual or changes color.
Let’s look at some of the ways you could reduce or manage mucus and phlegm.
Drink Lots of Water to Thin Phlegm
Thick phlegm is more difficult to expel from your body. It can cause shortness of breath and wheezing. It takes a lot more coughing to get viscous phlegm out of your lungs and throat.
Phlegm is primarily composed of water with a small quantity of gel-like chemicals that make it viscous. If you are dehydrated, your body is likely to produce thicker hard-to-move phlegm.
Don’t Suppress Coughs
You might be tempted to stop yourself from coughing or to use a cough suppressant medication. A chesty phlegmy cough is not pleasant. But coughing is the only way to get phlegm out of your body. If you don’t cough, you can’t clear your airways. Mucus carries away microbes and particles that infect and irritate your lungs, so suppressing a cough does more harm than good.
If you struggle to dislodge mucus, you may want to try an airway clearing technique that doctors recommend for people with cystic fibrosis. One such technique is huffing, which involves taking a breath, holding it for a few seconds, and then exhaling forcefully. Repeat this four or five times. Huffing can move mucus deep in the lungs into wider airways where it can be cleared with a strong cough.
Sleep With Your Head Elevated
Post-nasal drip afflicts people who produce excessive phlegm when they lie down. Mucus collects in the back of their throat, causing discomfort, coughing, and sore throats.
To reduce post-nasal drip, sleep with your head elevated. This position prevents mucus from pooling in the back of your throat. It doesn’t make the mucus go away, but it can help you to get a good night’s sleep and stop you from coughing yourself awake as often.
The safest and most comfortable way to elevate your head while sleeping is with a home hospital bed. Transfer Master home hospital beds feature an electronic head adjustment that can raise the upper part of your body into an elevated position. Alternatively, beds such as the Supernal 5 feature a tilt adjustment that can tilt the entire bed up at the head and down at the feet.
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Phlegm
Lifestyle changes may help to reduce the production of phlegm.
- Avoid foods the cause acid reflux. Acid reflux can lead to increased phlegm production. Avoid pizza if you know it gives you acid reflux.
- Stop smoking. Smoking irritates the airways. The body reacts by producing more phlegm.
- Reduce dust and air particulates. An air purifier can remove dust and other particles that irritate the airways.
In addition to using an air purifier, you may want to experiment with a humidifier. The key to reducing phlegm production is removing irritants from your environment, and dry air can irritate the nose and throat.
To learn more about how an adjustable bed can reduce post-nasal drip and phlegm-related sleeplessness, talk to one of our hospital bed experts today.