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Cough with Phlegm

Coughing up phlegm may be caused due to infection in the respiratory tract or some other serious lung problems. Mild cases of cough with phlegm resolve with effective home remedies and over-the-counter medication. This article highlights on the causes and treatment of productive cough.
HolisticZine Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Coughing alone is not actually a disease, but it is an indication of problems in the respiratory tract. In fact, a cough is a self-defense mechanism, triggered by the presence of any foreign or unwanted particles in the respiratory tract. And phlegm is nothing but the mucus secreted by the lungs in response to infection. Post nasal drip, a manifested symptom of cold, sinusitis and pneumonia may also result in phlegm buildup in the throat. When the mucus is expelled out of the body and becomes visible, it is called phlegm or sputum.
Almost all of us have experienced productive cough, which may be because of a common cold, bronchitis, or other respiratory tract infections. Coughing up phlegm is rather a good sign, as accumulation of the same can lead to chest infections and other medical complications. Nevertheless, a chronic cough condition with phlegm that is discolored (yellow, rusty-brown, green, etc.) should not be neglected, as it can be a symptom of some serious lung ailments.
Causes of Productive Cough
The underlying causes of productive cough may be mild to severe. For example, chesty cough resulted due to common cold is easily treatable; whereas those caused due to emphysema or other chronic lung problems are life-threatening. Frequent exposure (or inhalation) to chemical irritants, smokes, fumes, environmental pollutants, and alike allergens may also trigger cough with phlegm. In most patients, productive cough is commonly manifested in the morning.
Though not very reliable, the phlegm color meaning helps in quick identification of the underlying reason for wet cough. While yellow or green mucus denotes infection in the respiratory tract or lungs, gray or brown phlegm is due to inhalation of dust, fumes, tar, and similar pollutants. Also, the consistency of the expectorate is checked in sputum examination to confirm the causes. If required, the doctor will suggest chest X-ray, blood tests, and other diagnostic tests to rule out severe diseases.
Home Treatment
The therapeutic intervention for coughing up phlegm involves dealing with the underlying causes of excess phlegm in throat. Based on the actual reason, effective natural ways that assist in quick clearance of the mucus should be adopted. Following are some of the remedial measures for cough with mucus, which you can practice to get relief from productive cough.
Never Swallow Phlegm
The most effective remedy for cough with phlegm is to throw up the sputum as much as you can. This ensures clearing of excess mucus from the respiratory system, thereby preventing accumulation of the same and its associated infection. Drinking plenty of water also aids in mucus expectoration.
Nasal Decongestant
Nasal decongestants or sprays are often prescribed for people who have blocked nasal passages, which may be due to common cold, flu, or sinus infection. Also, inhaling steam and taking steam baths help in clearing nasal congestion and removing mucus efficiently.
Cough Expectorant
For those who have a wet cough, but finding it difficult to cough up mucus, a cough expectorant is considered to be the best solution. You can use a reliable over-the-counter cough expectorant for efficient expelling of mucus. While taking such cough syrups, carefully follow the directions mentioned in the label.
Avoid Cough Suppressant
A cough suppressant is suggested for treatment of dry cough, but not for a chesty or productive cough. Hence, do not use such formulations, even if cough with mucus is irritating and sometimes painful. Even the best cough suppressant exacerbates mucus production.
Check the Diet
Some food items help in loosening mucus from the respiratory tract. You can think of incorporating citrus fruits, pineapple, cauliflower, garlic, and celery in the diet. Sipping hot beverages and spicy food will aid in opening the air passages. However, refrain from any kind of cold food during the episode of productive cough.
Stop Smoking
Smoking is one of the primary reasons for causing chronic cough (lasting for more than 8 weeks) with or without mucus secretion. So, to treat coughing, one should quit the habit of smoking as early as possible. According to a study, smoking cessation has helped more than 90 percent of smokers in getting relief from cough within a month.
In case of chronic conditions, wherein cough with phlegm do not show prompt results with the above mentioned natural remedies, it is imperative to take medical help, rather than resorting to self medication. After conducting diagnostic tests, the physician will prescribe therapeutic drugs appropriate for patient's condition.