You don’t really know how the phlegm in your throat got there, but removing it is kind of gross. It turns out, phlegm actually serves a useful purpose: The thick, sludgy substance—made up of mostly water, salt, and antibodies—is designed to help capture and clear bacteria and other unwanted microorganisms from your nose and throat. Even when you’re feeling fine, your body naturally produces about a quart of phlegm every day. Without it, germs and irritants in the air would easily slip into your lungs through your air passages. And when you’re sick or suffering from allergies, your body ramps up its phlegm production in an effort to clear away the bad bugs it knows are present.
So here’s the big question: How do you clear phlegm from your throat?
3 ways to release mucus from your lungs
Our respiratory system has its own self-cleaning mechanism. Pollution, smoking, and some conditions of the respiratory system can slow it down, making it vulnerable to virus and bacterial attack. When your system is affected, you can feel chest congestion, inflammation, breathlessness, and end up with lung infections.
In a healthy person, the respiratory system produces a liter or two of mucus per day. Without this transparent, viscous cleanser, our respiratory system becomes dry and malfunctions. However, too much mucus leads to respiratory complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia. The airway narrows and becomes blocked, making it difficult for you to breathe. Excess mucus also becomes a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria.
How phlegm is removed from lungs
Although unpleasant, you can safely swallow mucus. This is because your body can safely reabsorb it. Phlegm however must be expelled from the body. Advice from healthcare professionals is to cough it up. This is because it will contain virus and dead bacteria. As you cough it up you are helping your body to get rid of the infection. There are now also devices that promote a productive cough, such as the Shaker mucus clearance devices by POWERbreathe.
How to Get Rid of Mucus Buildup in Lungs with Airway Clearance
If you’re living with a chronic lung condition like bronchiectasis or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), the challenge of clearing excess mucus from the lungs can significantly increase. This is especially true if you’ve experienced recurring respiratory infections. Your treatment may involve the use of antibiotics coupled with an effective airway clearance device to help clear your airways.
Just add water?
“There are so many people we could help if we could figure out how to make their mucus thinner,” says Stephanie Christenson. She’s a pulmonologist, or lung expert, at the University of California, San Francisco. What she finds especially cool about the new mucus study: “They were looking … at not just what it looks like, but how it interacts with the airways and the body.”
Drinking more water won’t solve the problem. But there is already one method to make phlegm a little more watery. Patients can inhale concentrated salt through a device called a nebulizer (NEH-beu-lye-zur). Salt in the lungs yanks water out of the blood and delivers it to the dry mucus. The wet mucus can then get hacked out. Now, Button notes, scientists understand just why the nebulizer works so well.