We have mucus throughout our body, and it's actually very important to keep our systems running properly—think of it as the oil that keeps the engine running smoothly. But phlegm is a particular kind of mucus that your lungs make when they're trying to expel irritants such as bacteria or inflammatory cells from an infection, or irritants that might be causing you an allergic reaction.
Phlegm build-up is characterized by trouble breathing, a runny nose, coughing, and a constant need to clear your throat. Normally you should be able to cough phlegm out, but sometimes it needs a little coaxing! Before reaching for the pharmaceutical decongestant (which can sometimes thicken phlegm, making it even more difficult to cough up), try these home remedies for reducing phlegm:
1) Lemons. Healthy Holistic Living cannot emphasize enough what a superfood lemons are. They have antibacterial properties, their Vitamin C component boosts our immune systems, and the acetic acid is so powerful it can also be used as a great cleaning product around your home. The most pleasant way to get your lemon fix is to add two teaspoons of freshly squeezed juice to a cup of warm water, and sweeten it with some honey (which is also good for reducing phlegm—we'll get to that next).
2) Honey. This wonderful sweet treat is recognized as a demulcent, which soothes your throat. According to Healthy Holistic Living, honey also contains dextromethorphan which is commonly found in cough medicines. There are a number of ways you can take honey—try a tablespoon of it with a pinch of black pepper, which will aid in fighting the infection. You can add honey to warm water (with or without lemon), and you can have multiple cups a day. Watch your sugar intake with this one, but if you're not diabetic then a few spoons a day while you're unwell won't do you any harm.
3) Steam. This is one of the best ways to loosen up stubborn phlegm in your chest and throat. The hot steam liquifies the phlegm, allowing you to cough it up, according to Livestrong. Try having a long, hot shower, keeping the fan off and the doors closed to seal in all the steam. Alternatively, you can fill a mixing bowl or a basin with boiling water. Lean over the bowl with your head covered by a towel and inhale the steam for as long as necessary to loosen up the phlegm. Be very careful with this method, as steam can cause serious burns. Approach it gently without putting your face too close to the water, and ensure there are no children or pets around who might accidentally tip the water over.
4) Chest percussion. WebMD describes a technique whereby you create vibrations on the chest using a cupped hand. These vibrations help to move the phlegm into larger airways so that it can be coughed up. Chest percussion can be done at home by a partner, but it is important that you see your doctor first for proper instruction. You can see further explanation including diagrams here.
5) Salt Water. This is a fantastic remedy for three reasons, according to Top 10 Home Remedies. Salt water is a powerful antibacterial agent, it relaxes your throat, and it reduces inflammation. Dissolve a pinch of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle. Rinse and repeat several times a day.
6) Nasal Irrigation. We've talked about gargling salt water, but you can also try rinsing your nasal passages with it. Nasal irrigation is the method of pouring a saline solution into one nostril to loosen up the mucus that has collected there, and then draining it out of the other nostril. WebMD emphasizes the importance of using distilled or boiled water when making your own saline solution, and rinsing your irrigation device after each use.
7) Turmeric. Turmeric may be the latest super-spice, but people have been using it for thousands of years. According to Top 10 Home Remedies, turmeric's antiseptic properties kill the bacteria that cause excessive mucus, and turmeric naturally strengthens the immune system. Try simply adding a teaspoon of turmeric to a glass of hot water, and gargling. You can also add it to a glass of hot milk for a soothing and spicy drink, but take care with this one as many people find that milk encourages the production of phlegm.
8) Warm compress. Try soaking a washcloth in hot water and laying it over the affected areas of your body—the warmth will heat up and liquify the mucus.
9) Essential Oils. Natural Living Ideas suggests making use of a diffuser to waft the aroma of essential oils throughout your room. Eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary are all essential oils with decongestant properties that help to open the airways.
10) Hot drinks. You might have noticed a common thread throughout these remedies—many of them include a glass of warm water. Natural Living Ideas emphasizes the importance of drinking hot drinks while you're under the weather. They're comforting and keep you hydrated, but they're also effective in loosening mucus from your throat and chest. You can have warm water with lemon, herbal teas, or even a cup of chicken broth. This isn't an old wive's tale—researchers have tested the effects of hot and cold drinks on people suffering from the flu, and found that those who were given a hot drink experienced instant and prolonged relief from their flu symptoms.
Stubborn phlegm in your chest and throat is frustrating, and prolonged coughing in an attempt to get it out can irritate the walls of your throat and hurt your chest and ribs. Try these natural home remedies instead to warm and soften the mucus, allowing it to travel more easily through your airways and out of your body.