Mucus is not something any of us enjoys having. It is the slimy, sticky substance that accumulates in the throat or in the nasal cavities and sinuses when we have a variety of sinus infections or colds. In fact, mucus is part of how the body is helped when it is fighting off infections, as mucus helps keep the throat and nasal passages moist, while blocking further irritants from entering. But though it can be partly helpful, it can also become burdensome to us, and this can lead to a clogging of the throat and airways when allergies, colds, or sinus infections are present.
What Causes Mucus Buildup?
There are multiple causes of mucus build-up, but below we outline those linked to most cases of mucus in the throat.
These can be a surprisingly frequent cause of throat mucus. Especially in the summer, when we don’t expect colds, we may still be heavy with mucus, and we can fail to see that it may actually be due to hayfever or some reaction to the season’s particular allergens. Mucus suffering in the summer is likely linked to pollen and our body dealing with the irritant effect of pollen in the airwaves. Allergies often inflame your throat’s lining and this can lead to mucus being generated there.
A common cause of a sinus infection is a build-up of mucus in the throat and also in the sinus cavities, leading to congestion and inflammation and some difficulty swallowing. To clear the throat and return your breathing and swallowing to normal, you ultimately need to reduce the mucus that is gathering there. Below, we explain how best to do so.
Bacterial or Viral infections
The so-called common viral cold is the most likely cause of throat mucus for most people. Usually when we have mucus in the throat, we are also suffering from a viral infection cold. Most colds eventually go, but they tend to last longer than we wish, and some last up to fourteen days. That is a long time to have the gloopy feeling of mucus as you swallow, and to feel your throat clogged, so we want to get rid of it long before then.
A bacterial infection in the throat, with mucus as a byproduct of that, usually results from an existing medical condition, such as strep throat or sinusitis. These infections cause thick, yellow-green mucus with a sticky texture and feeling. Viral infections, on the other hand, as above, are typically caused by the common cold and they often result in a thin, clear mucus. This can be a useful discriminator as to whether you have a bacterial or viral infection.
Dry air is to be avoided
Inhaling moist air when you have mucus in the throat is essential. Steam inhalation is perhaps the most well-known of all anti-mucus home remedies, and it is often highly effective for those suffering from throat mucus. Steam inhalation helps to loosen the mucus that has built up in your sinuses and ease any associated sinus and throat-centered pressure. You can either use a facial steamer or just boil a pot of water and then lean over the pot breathing in the steam. Make sure to keep your head at least 10-12 inches away from the hot water so you don’t burn yourself, and remember that you do not really need to use very hot water. The nose will be stimulated to release mucus with even a relatively mild heat.
Alternatively, simply have a warm hot shower a couple of times a day, and ideally just before bedtime. You can also use an inhaler like a humidifier or saline solution to help break up mucus secretion.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Though a rarer cause of mucus in the throat, many people often forget to consider Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, causing a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms, including heartburn, chest pain, dry cough, sore throat, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, and an acid or sour taste in the mouth.
Reduce exposure to irritants and allergens
There are more common irritants to the throat and the interconnected areas of your sinuses than you may realize and some of these can stimulate mucus in the throat. Common sources of irritants and allergens are smoke in the air, dust, pet food and straw, animals, mold in a damp room, and also chemical fumes from cleaning products. These can all be things we fail to register as possible causes of a sinus irritation, but each of these may be in our day-to-day lives.
Check their presence in your life and see if they might be linked to the throat mucus you are suffering from. Many people lower their household risks and improve the quality of their lives by investing in air filters for their home or workplace. You could also benefit from using damp cloths to clean surfaces instead of chemical-laden sprays and wipes. Doing this can help limit irritation and keep your throat freer of what might be potentially infecting agents that are forcing your throat and sinuses to produce mucus.
Use a humidifier or vaporizer
There is significant evidence that adding moisture to the air can help thin mucus and reduce the potency of any throat or sinus issues you are having. One way is to use a humidifier or vaporizer, and by running it in your bedroom while you sleep you potentially aid your recovery overnight. This is because you are adding extra moisture to the air throughout the night, allowing you to breathe more easily. As it is often drier air that stimulates us to cough, the more gently moist the air we sleep in, the less likely we are to suffer and the easier our throat will feel.
Drinking plenty of fluids
The benefit of drinking plenty of fluids when you are unwell is that it helps to thin out the mucus in your throat and sinuses, making it easier to blow your nose or cough out the mucus and sinus gunk. It can therefore reduce the duration and severity of your suffering. There is no doubt that drinking plenty of fluids and good hydration helps in the fight against any mucus build-up, so do not think of this as an optional approach. It is necessary, as the hydration works to dilute the mucus and breaks up the cloying gunk and stickiness in your throat..
However, it really matters what you drink. Make sure most of what you drink is either water; low sugar teas, such as camomile, hibiscus or lemon; green teas; and modest amounts of fresh fruit juice. High sugar and high caffeine energy drinks are not going to optimize your recovery.
Avoiding mucus-producing food and drinks, such as dairy and sugar
This is often a surprise to people, but it is worth being aware that, for many people, eating dairy products or high sugar foods while suffering from a build-up of mucus in the throat will likely exacerbate your condition. This is because dairy products have been proven to increase mucus production, resulting in congestion and that mucus-heavy feeling you’re trying to lighten. Processed foods also contain lots of preservatives and sugar, all of which damage your recovery. They also contain very high and dehydrating levels of sodium, which is not what you want when you are fighting off mucus infections in the throat especially. High sugar levels also cause inflammation in your throat, which then makes it harder for mucus to exit the body through the sinuses or be coughed up.
It is sometimes down to us. We have to quit smoking to optimize our health. Smoking plays a huge part in many mucus infections, so the quicker you can give it up (Check elsewhere on Healthnile for our advice on How to Quit Smoking and How to Quit Vaping) the more likely it is you will have fewer problems with mucus in the throat.
Remember that smoking causes inflammation of the throat and sinuses, which weakens your body’s natural defenses and makes it notably harder to fight off any infection you may have currently.
Antihistamines work by blocking the release of histamines, which leads to a decrease in mucus production. They come in oral or nasal sprays, or can be applied topically as drops or ointments. Some commonly available antihistamines include loratadine, cetirizine and diphenhydramine. Though it can be tempting to think they are all the same, in fact some work better for some people than others, so you may need to try the different types until you find the one that is most effective for you personally. They are also not always the same price, so check that out too.
They are generally well tolerated and have few side effects, though you may experience drowsiness or an occasional dry mouth. By themselves, they may not necessarily rid your throat of mucus entirely, but they are very likely to lower the amount of mucus you produce.
Applying a warm compress to your face
This is an old remedy, but a highly effective one. It is also very simple and can be done anywhere. Simply find a clean towel or face cloth and soak it in warm water. Don’t make it too hot; it needs only to be warm, as the throat and nose will respond to even modest changes in temperature. Apply it over your nose and forehead for around ten minutes, and you will stimulate the movement of mucus in your sinuses. This will have a positive impact on mucus throughout your head, including in helping release the stickiness of the mucus in your throat.
Avoiding pollution matters to us all, but it’s especially important when we are ill with a mucus-based infection. Do what you can to make sure you limit your exposure to irritants like smoke, strong odors, and cold air. This really is important. It is very often our environment that is the problem.
To lessen the risk of mucus in the throat taking hold, avoid places where smoking is allowed or where there are strong odors. This could include places like bars, certain restaurants, and certain workplaces. In addition, in cold weather make sure to cover your mouth and nose, especially in crowded cold places where ventilation is poor. Ventilation is necessary, no matter the weather, so be sure to allow some airflow wherever you are. It makes illness much less likely.
Gargling with salt water
Gargling with salt water is a popular and effective remedy because the salt content in the water helps to reduce swelling in the throat and reduce inflammation. This, in turn, thins out mucus, which makes it easier to expel. Another benefit is that salt’s antibacterial properties keep the throat clean and reduce any infection-causing bacteria. But the most essential factor is that the warm water helps to loosen up any mucus that’s stuck to the back of your throat.
Drink herbal teas such as ginger, chamomile, or peppermint
Many herbal teas have anti-inflammatory properties, with ginger, chamomile, and peppermint being some of the most popular. Ginger is great for reducing the mucosal congestion caused by a viral infection, while peppermint can reduce pain in the throat and be soothing. Chamomile can reduce inflammation and can even help you relax after a long day. Be open to including these teas in your armory of tactics to ensure you limit mucus production in the throat and dilute blockages as early as possible. It is important when we feel unwell that we treat our bodies with good things, and herbal teas are one of nature’s great health-supporters.
Nasal irrigation kits
Nasal irrigation kits, sometimes also known as neti pots, can also be an effective way of treating mucus. As with a saline spray, they allow you to flush away mucus and provide relief from any associated congestion. By irrigating your throat and sinuses with a saline solution, mucus is loosened and any excess is able to be flushed out. With regular use, they can lessen your susceptibility to bouts of mucus excess.
Use essential oils such as oregano and peppermint oil
The antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial qualities of oregano and peppermint oil make them a great tool for natural remedies. Oregano oil is especially potent, and its many active compounds are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Peppermint oil, on the other hand, has a cooling and soothing effect that can help relieve throat irritation and congestion.
If you’re looking for a way to naturally reduce mucus buildup in your throat, try using either oregano or peppermint oil. Be sure to follow the instructions for use and take care not to use too much, as this could cause more harm than good. With a little bit of patience, you may find that these essential oils can be an effective way to get rid of mucus in your throat.
Steroid nasal sprays
As we know, reducing inflammation when you have mucus build-up in the throat is important. Corticosteroid nasal sprays do just that and help clear blocked nasal passages and therefore deal with the mucus that has got stuck in your throat. They reduce thick mucus, making it easier to breathe. Many people find them more effective than decongestants and antihistamines when it comes to relieving a blocked and cloying throat, due to their increased strength.
Generally, corticosteroid sprays are safe for short-term use in treating any mucus-based infections. However, prolonged use can have some side effects, as with all steroidal treatments, so make sure to use them only for a short period of time.
Decongestants are meds with which we are all familiar, but we may not know precisely how they work. In effect, they are successful in the battle against mucus because they are vasoconstrictors, which means they reduce swelling in the throat and nasal cavities. This can therefore help to reduce the pressure caused by the mucus and allow it to flow more clearly away. On top of that, some decongestants can also provide relief from itching, sneezing, and other allergy-related symptoms that can be connected to a build-up of mucus in the throat.
There is a huge variety of decongestants on the market, almost all of them available as OTC medicines. Talk to a pharmacist to determine the one that will be the most efficacious for your particular ailments and the stage of your progress in treating the mucus.
These can be an outstanding way to address the mucus build-up, but only if the core infection is due to a bacterial cause. Antibiotics will not address viral matters, so be clear to know what kind of infection you have, bacterial or viral.
As with all meds, you will need to have these prescribed by your doctor, whose advice you should seek if the mucus in your throat is making life very difficult.
Use antacids to treat acid reflux
Acid reflux is caused by an excess of stomach acid entering the throat. The goal of antacids is to neutralize this acid, thereby reducing the amount of mucus that is built up, as the increased presence of mucus in the throat can be a side-effect of acid reflux. Antacids are readily available OTC and are highly effective.
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