Phlegm Overview:

Phlegm is a thick substance and is a type of mucus, which is released by the mucous membranes of the human respiratory system. It is considered an unpleasant thing to have and mostly causes irritation and makes the person uncomfortable, but it is very important for the overall immunity of the person. It will be helpful to know how much mucus is normal or what does the colour of the mucus tells about the health of the person.

Phlegm Definition:

The tissues that produce the mucus are inside the lungs and exist near the tracts of the respiratory system. Phlegm is also generated by the nose, throat and mouth along with the gut as well. The mucus is very important because it helps in preventing the harmful germs and substances from entering the lungs and respiratory airways. Those germs and substances can cause infections if they are able to enter the body.

Basically, mucus is a layer of protection over the tissue surfaces. It helps to protect the tissues from drying. It is important to keep the tissues moist because if they get dry, there is a possibility that they can crack.

Normally, mucus is a clear substance and thin in consistency. It might not get noticed in usual conditions, but when the person falls sick or there is a presence of any sort of infection, then it can become thick and its colour would change too. There could be various colours the mucus can take, and those colours can help in determining the different conditions the person might be suffering from. It is not only the colour but also the texture which can vary and depicts something about the health of the person.

Phlegm Symptoms:

The symptoms of phlegm are also very straightforward. If there is congestion in the chest, it is a sign of the presence of phlegm. If the person is coughing mucus, it clearly implies that phlegm is present in the body. It can also be accompanied by shortness of breath. Other symptoms could include:

-  A runny nose or feeling of stuffiness inside.

-  Liquid running at the back of the throat. This condition is also known as postnasal drip.

-  A sore throat.

-  Urge to clear the throat too frequently.

-  Sour taste on the tongue.

-  Heartburn.

Causes of Phlegm:

Some of the common causes of phlegm are as follows:

-  Some types of infections like flu or cold. This generally happens when the season changes. People often face this a couple of times in a year.

-  An allergic reaction to some substances.

-  Issues in the respiratory system like the presence of some irritation in the lungs, throat or in the nasal passage.

-  Issues with the digestive system or acid reflux.

-  Smoking. Tobacco is very harmful to overall health as well.

-  Diseases related to the respiratory system like cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, pneumonia or COPD (chronic pulmonary disease).

-  Some blood pressure related drugs can also cause this issue.

How is it diagnosed?

Mucus is generally straightforward to diagnose, but it is important to know what it means when there is phlegm being produced in the body. Its colour can tell the condition of the respiratory system:

-  When the colour of the phlegm is clear, then there is nothing to worry about unless it continues for some days. Clear mucus is normal to have. The contents of clear mucus include water and some salts. It also includes some cells of the body’s immunity system. It gets produces in the respiratory tract. Most of this clear mucus is swallowed as it goes back down the throat.

-  The phlegm may be brown in colour. Brown colour could mean bleeding. If the reason is bleeding, then it would probably mean that the bleeding happened some time ago. If the colour is closer to red or pink, it would imply that bleeding did not happen very long back. It could be a recent one.

-  If the colour is black, then it means that there could be an infection, most probably a fungal one. In such a case, medical attention is required. Especially if the immune system is already weak, then there should be no delay in seeking the medical attention.

-  The colour of the phlegm could be white as well. It is a sign of congestion. The congestion is caused in the nasal cavity. When this happens, the tissues get inflamed. They can also get swollen which would give problems to the mucus in passing through the respiratory tract. This causes the phlegm to become white and thick in consistency.

-  The yellow colour of the mucus implies that there is an infection or an inflammation of the body and the immunity cells (white blood cells) are working on it to heal it. The phlegm picks those white blood cells up which results in the yellow colour.

-  The greenish tone in the phlegm comes from the white blood cells, proteins, germs and cells. This happens because of the immune response. This implies that the body is trying to fight an infection, but it does not mean that antibiotics are required. The kind of infections that lead to the green colour is mostly viral in nature. They do get healed in a few weeks’ time by themselves without any need for an antibiotic. Taking the antibiotics in such a situation can be harmful because the chances of bacteria developing the resistance are more. In case there are issues in breathing normally, blood in a cough or pain in the chest, then seeking medical help is advisable.

-  The red colour in the phlegm comes from the blood. The reasons why there could be blood in phlegm are many. The most common reason for this is because of the damaged blood vessels in the airways or inside the lungs. Because of repeated coughing, those blood vessels can break and then starts bleeding. There could also be a serious medical condition when the person is getting blood in the mucus which is why visiting the doctor to find out the exact reason will be a better option.

Prevention from Phlegm:

The prevention of phlegm is dependent on the causes, some of which are out of control. Most of them can be controlled by adopting a careful approach. For example, whenever there is a change of the season coming up, it is better to avoid icy cold drinks and those foods which are more likely to cause cold and cough. When the person can suspect that they are attacked by an allergic infection, it is best to take help from a doctor so that medicines can be taken early in the stages. If it develops over days, then it can take a few weeks to heal.

When the person is sick with cold and flu or other phlegm causing diseases, then taking ample rest is also very helpful. Drinking water is always very good for the health, especially when the person is having phlegm. It is important to note that an early sign of phlegm is the presence of clear mucus and it is best to take some action when that is seen. People should generally work on their immune system and try to strengthen it by eating enough amounts of fruits and green leafy vegetables. Nuts like walnuts and almonds also help in boosting the immunity. In case the person is aware that they are allergic to certain things, they should try to keep themselves away from it or take extra precautions when they must be in the non-suitable environment. Avoiding direct and passive smoking will always be one of the most important ways to prevent phlegm or most other diseases.

Treatment of Phlegm:

The treatment of phlegm can be medicinal or can be done through some home remedies as well. Generally, any person who is having phlegm should have an ample amount of rest and consume a good amount of water to stay hydrated. The problem of phlegm gets worse if the body is not hydrated enough. Because of dehydration, the mucus gets thick and then it becomes even harder to cough it up.

It has also been seen that some people believe that walking moderately can also help in coughing out the phlegm. Apart from these precautions, following treatments and home remedies can be adopted to reduce phlegm production in the body:

-  Use of appliances like humidifiers in the room will help in keeping some moisture in the air. They make it easier to breathe which helps in loosening the mucus because of which it becomes easier to cough it out. This ultimately prevents congestion in the lungs.

-  Application of washcloth soaked in warm water can be soothing in case the person is suffering from headache due to sinus. If the warm washcloth is kept on the nose and the air is breathed in from there, it can provide some moisture to the nose, as well as the throat. The moisture helps in relieving the pain caused by stressful breathing caused by phlegm.

-  When the person is having phlegm and they are unable to sleep properly, they can avoid sleeping in a flat position. It will help if they can keep their head elevated. If they keep their head like that, they will not get the feeling as if phlegm is getting accumulated at the back of their throat.

-  The use of cough syrups which acts as suppressants can also be avoided as much as possible. This is because it is best to cough the phlegm out of the body. It is not helpful if it stays inside the body.

-  It might be difficult in many situations, but it is highly advisable to spit out the cough whenever it reaches the throat from the lungs. It is very hard to get the phlegm to a position in which it can be spit out of the mouth, but if it can be done, then it should not be suppressed. Swallowing it is not a healthy thing to do. Always keep some tissues handy so that they can be used in case wash-basins are not accessible.

-  The use of saline sprays or nasal sprays is also helpful. These sprays help in clearing out the phlegm from the nasal passage and enables the person to breathe comparatively comfortably. There are also nasal irrigators available in the market.

-  The person who has phlegm should also gargle with salt water. This not only helps in soothing the tired throat, but also clears the leftover mucus in the throat. Gargles are generally advised multiple times a day with salt and lukewarm water.

-  As per the traditional medicine system, use of eucalyptus is also very popular. Products of eucalyptus are known to help in condition of phlegm. There are eucalyptus oils available which can be used in diffusers, or in warm shower. Sometimes, people also use the oil to apply on chest but only a few drops should be used as that oil is quite strong. Some people also add this oil to humidifiers which has dual benefits.

-  Coffee and alcohol can be avoided because they cause dehydration.

-  Consumption of plenty of fruits can be helpful.


Too much of phlegm causes breathing issues and makes it very hard to breathe properly. It also causes a lot of discomfort for the person and they need to cough it out repeatedly. Coughing the mucus frequently can harm the blood vessels. Phlegm is also known to cause a headache and tiredness.


The most commonly believed myth about phlegm is that milk is one of the causes of phlegm. Milk can be responsible for making the phlegm thicker and it can also cause irritation in the throat when phlegm is already there, but milk is not responsible for creating more phlegm in the body. It is also believed that dairy products can even give a soothing feeling to the throat which might have become sore due to excessive coughing. Those products can also be counted upon as a calorie source which can act as a replacement for some foods which people don’t feel like eating when they have the problem of phlegm.

Last updated on : 14-09-2018

Disclaimer : Docprime doesn’t endorse or take any guarantee of the accuracy or completeness of information provided under this article and these are the views strictly of the writer. Docprime shall not be held responsible for any aspect of healthcare services administered with the information provided on this article.

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