Phlegm is a common occurrence. It refers to the mucus that is secreted by the mucous membrane in the respiratory tract. When the mucus membranes in your body try to fight off infections and inflammations, phlegm is formed. Phlegm is slightly different from mucus, as it comes from the lungs and not the nasal passages. Phlegm tends to collect and congest in the chest and throat region. It is usually expelled from the mouth when the individual coughs. Usually the formation of phlegm isn’t a cause for worry. It is however an uncomfortable and embarrassing condition as it leads to constant throat congestion, constant throat clearing, coughing, and at times shortness of breath. Phlegm may also interfere with sleep patterns. While phlegm isn’t usually dangerous, if it is ignored for long, it can clog and irritate the bronchial tubes causing a secondary upper respiratory tract infection.

Phlegm Picture

Symptoms of Phlegm

Phlegm has a gel like consistency and its presence is usually indicated by the constant need for throat clearing, difficulty breathing normally (shortness of breath), constant cough, which in turn may lead to muscle weakening and soreness, runny nose, and in some cases it might even lead to a fever. The main reason for these symptoms is that in the case of a respiratory infection, the causative bacteria or virus is present in the phlegm. The excessive phlegm acts as an irritant and as the individual coughs, the phlegm is expelled along with the pathogens and this reduces the strain on the individual’s immune system. The color of the expelled phlegm along with accompanying symptoms can help a doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

Causes of Phlegm

Many of us may wonder what the exact causes of phlegm in throat are, often considering it to be an underlying problem of a deeper cause. However, phlegm is always present in the body and only becomes a concern when there is an overproduction of it. Mucus, which is a form of phlegm, helps protect and lubricate the body internally. It is essential for keeping the tissues in the body moist. It also keeps dirt, bacteria, dust, airborne allergens and pollen from entering the lungs, as you breathe. Mucus is a compilation of water, salt, carbohydrates, protein, and tissue cells. Since it is produced by the mucus membrane, it can be found in most parts of the body that are exposed to the surrounding, which include the ears, the nostrils, the mouth and lips, to name a few. Mucus is also present in the digestive and the respiratory tracts. In fact, the lungs are quite dependent on the presence of mucus, in order to remove potential causes of inflammation and infections. When this mucus, that is present in the lungs, gets infected, it changes color and is expelled from the body, in the form of phlegm. Coughing up phlegm is one of the most common ways of getting rid of it.

Phlegm is a common condition. Everyone experiences it at one time or the other. Phlegm can be the result of a number of conditions. It can be the byproduct of a simple seasonal flu or it can be the result of allergies or sinusitis. It can also be caused by viral or bacterial infections such as influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia; it can be the result of a particular lifestyle (for example excessive smoking) or it could be a symptom of a serious lung condition.

The color, consistency and amount of phlegm produced is observed by doctors to determine the cause, condition and treatment plan. Light, semi clear phlegm usually means there is little to worry about; dark, stained mucus is a result of excessive smoking; and blood in the phlegm may be an indication of a serious respiratory condition and may require immediate medical attention.

The color of the phlegm is indicative of the medical problem that you may be suffering from, as various types of infections cause differences in the color of the phlegm that is expelled. Given below are the different phlegm color possibilities and what they mean:

  • White Colored Phlegm: In most healthy people, the phlegm is white in color. If you are coughing up phlegm that is white in color it would indicate a healthy body free of infection. The excessive production of phlegm in such a case can be attributed to an irritant or allergen.
  • Yellow Colored Phlegm: Phlegm can be either light yellow or dark yellow at times. Light yellow phlegm is an indication that your immune system is healthy and is functioning well. If you are coughing up phlegm that is yellow it would indicate that your immune system is fighting off a respiratory infection. It could signify the beginning or even the end of a sinus infection. At times, light yellow phlegm could be a symptom of a viral infection that occurs in the upper respiratory tract. If you are coughing up phlegm that is dark yellow in color it could be indicative of a bacterial infection or an infection in the lower respiratory tract.
  • Green Colored Phlegm: Green phlegm is generally seen in people who have been infected with pneumonia or internal micro bleeding. Therefore, if you are coughing up phlegm that is green in color it is a sign that your body has been infected. The mucus turns green on color because of the presence of an enzyme that is known as myeloperoxidases (MPO). This enzyme is green in color.
  • Brown Colored Phlegm: Phlegm that is brown in color is often associated with people who smoke excessively. In such cases, phlegm is also mixed with saliva. In case you are coughing up phlegm that is brown, you may also notice that it is grainy in texture. This means that dust and some other foreign matter are mixed with the phlegm. This is often caused by damage to cilia, which generally happens with COPD patients. In case of excessive smoking, the color of the phlegm turns brown, as resin sticks to it. If you notice that phlegm has turned brown in color for you, it is important for you to cut down on smoking, which usually worsens respiratory problems.
  • Red Colored Phlegm (the presence of blood): The presence of blood in the phlegm is a benign indication of bronchitis or even the sign of a major illness, such as tuberculosis. The blood appears in the form of streaks, along with the phlegm. However, in case you are coughing up phlegm with a significant amount of blood, it could be a major cause of concern that requires immediate medical attention.

Phlegm color is an important indication of your health and should not be ignored. It is best to get in touch with a doctor in case the color signifies any serious health concerns.

Remedies for Phlegm

You can opt for a number of over-the counter flu medicine or you can try some simple home remedies to get rid of phlegm.

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add a spoon of vapor rub to the water. If you don’t like vapor rub, add a handful of mint and eucalyptus leaves to the water. Once the water comes to the boil, remove it from the stove, lean over the pot and inhale the vapor. This loosens the congestion in the sinus cavities and makes it easier to expel the congested phlegm. If you are coughing up phlegm that is extremely thick, you may start to suffer from congestion and so you can start using this home remedy right away to prevent as well as treat congestion. Using a humidifier during the nights also helps to ease congestion.

Honey and pepper are simple phlegm remedies. Mix a pinch of pepper to a spoon of honey and have this mixture twice a day for a week. Another simple measure is to cut a slice of lemon, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and suck on the lemon slice. This will help to clear the throat easily.

A tonic made out of ginger, onion, and sugar is a very effective home remedy for phlegm. You will need to clean and finely chop a small onion. Place this in a bowl along with a teaspoon of grated ginger and two spoons of sugar. Toss the mixture well and then keep it aside for 20 minutes. Sugar is a humectant which means that it helps to draw out the liquid from within the onion and garlic. You will find that the tonic is sweet and does not have the pungent taste and aroma of onions. Onions and garlic are rich in several compounds that act as natural antibiotics. This can also be used as a tonic for phlegm in kids as its sweet taste is quite irresistible to children. This tonic helps to bolster the immune system and thus helps to reduce the severity of the infection. It also helps to increase the fluidity of the phlegm and allows it to be easily expelled from the body. The tonic also helps to soothe the throat which makes it especially effective in treating a sore throat.

Diet for Phlegm

What you eat and drink has a direct impact on your condition. Eating foods that are rich in vitamins can help boost the immune system, thereby reducing the chances of an infection or the excessive production of phlegm. In the case of phlegm, it is essential to drink plenty of warm fluids like soups and broths. It is also important to drink at least eight glasses of water and juices rich in Vitamin C (like orange juice). The liquids prevent the phlegm from hardening and this makes it easier to expel.

Include ginger in your diet. It is a natural decongestant and has been used to fight off infections for centuries; ginger eases congestion in the throat and chest and allows you to breathe easily. Depending on your preferences you can chew on a raw strip of ginger or consume it in the form of ginger tea.

Suggestions for Phlegm

Avoid eating processed foods, excess sugars and dairy products. These tend to make phlegm thicker. Also avoid alcohol and cigarettes as these irritate the throat, worsening the condition. Do not have foods that are very spicy as this can irritate the inflamed lining of the throat and aggravate or cause a cough.

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