How To Get Rid Of Phlegm From The Chest?

What is phlegm?

Phlegm is a kind of mucus that is made by the respiratory system but does not include mucus from the nasal passages. It typically refers to the mucus that is discharged from the respiratory tract during coughing, which is also referred to as sputum. Phlegm, like mucus, is a water-based gel composed of glycoproteins, immunoglobulins, lipids, and other components.1

Causes for excessive phlegm in the respiratory system

Excess phlegm build up may be caused by:2

  • Respiratory Infections, such as the flu or the common cold.
  • Asthma causes airways to constrict and become narrow which can cause excess phlegm in order to reduce damage to the lungs and can result in phlegm to build up. 
  • Digestive problems such as gastric reflux illness can cause a person's nose, throat, or lungs to become irritated. 
  • Bronchitis is often caused by a bacteria or virus which can lead to excess production of phlegm.
  • The use of tobacco products would irritate the respiratory system. 
  • Cystic fibrosis, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and Pneumonia.

Differences between mucus and phlegm

Mucus is a watery fluid made by the body's mucous membranes to keep the airways moist and hydrated. It has many antibodies and enzymes that work to combat and keep bacteria from entering your body from the air you breathe.3

Phlegm and mucus are both watery substances made up of inorganic salts and proteins. Both help protect your body, however, phlegm is much thicker than mucus. Mucus is blown out of the nose, while phlegm is coughed up from the lungs. Phlegen is also a sign of diseases like pneumonia and bronchitis.3 

Colours of phlegm

The colour of your phlegm can be an indicator of your body’s health condition and can also help doctors identify what illness is contributing to the phlegm. The different colours usually seen in phlegm are:

White phlegm

It is normal to cough up white or clear phlegm every now and then. But if you cough up a lot of white or clear mucus, it could mean your airways are inflamed.4

Phlegm that is yellow or green

This could be a sign of an infection, like a cold, the flu, or a chest infection.4

Phlegm with red streaks

Blood coming up when you cough can be scary, but it does not always mean there is something seriously wrong. If you cough up blood, you probably have a chest infection or have been coughing a lot. Even if you only cough up a little bit of blood, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.4

Phlegm that is brown or black

There are a few things that can cause brown or black phlegm, and smoking is one of them. If you have these signs, it is very important that you stop smoking. Brown phlegm coming up when you cough can also be a sign of pneumonia. If you are coughing up brown or black phlegm, you should make an appointment with your doctor right away.4

How to get rid of chest phlegm

Use a humidifiers

The use of a humidifier helps to moisten your airways, which in turn reduces the need for your body to produce more mucus and phlegm to prevent dryness.3

Stay hydrated

Since you lose a lot of fluids through mucus and phlegm, drinking more water and cutting back on drinks that make you lose fluids, like coffee, can help reduce phlegm.3

Spit the phlegm out

You can spit out phlegm when it comes up to the surface, but swallowing it is not going to hurt you either.5

Keep the head elevated

Elevating your head a little can counteract the pull of gravity that causes phlegm to build up in your throat.6

Gargle with salt water

Gargling with salt water helps get rid of the buildup of phlegm in your lungs.7

Use a saline nasal spray

Using saline sprays can help cleanse and hydrate tissues in your nose, allowing you to breathe more easily.3

Take a hot shower

Taking a hot shower causes the air to be more moist, a warm mist can help ease phlegm.6

Use eucalyptus oil

Eucalyptus oil works as an expectorant, which loosens phlegm and makes it easier to cough up.8

Avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine

When you smoke or breathe in smoke, your body makes more mucus and phlegm. Drinking too much alcohol or caffeine might make you dehydrated. Limiting your smoking, drinking, and caffeine use can help stop phlegm from building up.9

Eat more fruits

A diet high in fruit fibre may reduce the number of phlegm-related respiratory issues.10

Consume foods that get rid of phlegm

The best sources of antioxidants, which are nutrients that support your body's capacity to fight against diseases and infections are garlic, watercress, celery, pickles, onions, lemons, and parsley to prevent phlegm in addition to being nutritional.11


Over-the-counter medicines

Decongestants and other over the counter medications help reduce the amount of phlegm coming from your respiratory system. Eucalyptus oil is a common ingredient in chest rubs like Vicks VapoRub, and this also helps clear phlegm and soothe coughs.12

Prescription medicines

Doctors can prescribe medications to help you remove phlegm buildup in some cases. Antibiotics can be administered if symptoms intensify. In order to identify the specific bacteria that is causing the illness, a sample of phlegm is collected. However, since it might take a few days to receive the test results, a wide spectrum antibiotic that is effective against a wide variety of bacteria will be given.12 


There are many exercises that you can do to help clear phlegm from your lungs.

You can try to do anything that gets you out of breath such as going for a walk, marching on the spot or punching the air 10 times with your arms.13

You can also try breathing exercises. Active cycle breathing technique (ACBT) is one of the most effective ways used to reduce phlegm. It involves breathing normally for a while, then taking several deep breaths to press the mucus up and loosen it, followed by coughing the phlegm out and repeating the cycle for the next 20 to 30 minutes. You may need to practice ACBT more frequently if you get a lung infection.12 

Illnesses related to phlegm

Illness related to phlegm include:14

  • Bronchiectasis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Lung disease
  • Asthma 
  • COPD (which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema)


There are measures to take to prevent the build up of phlegm.1 

  • Stop eating food that causes acid reflux. 
  • Stay away from smoking and secondhand smoke. 
  • You should try to avoid dairy items as they might thicken phlegm.
  • Avoid being around fumes, toxic chemicals, and allergies. Chemicals such as paint, fumes, cleansers, and others can irritate your airways and affect your respiratory system.


A kind of mucus produced by the respiratory system is phlegm. Phlegm and mucous are typically caused by small infections. 

Phlegm and mucus production in excess might occasionally be a sign of a more serious disease. If the issue is serious, lingers, or does not get better with rest and home cures, consult a doctor.


  1. ClevelandClinic. Phlegm and Mucus: How To Get Rid of It [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. 2022 [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  2. NHS. Bronchiectasis - Causes [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  3. Arabia P. What Is The Difference Between Mucus and Phlegm? [Internet]. Prospan Arabia. 2020 [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  4. Asthma and Lung UK. Phlegm, mucus and asthma [Internet]. Asthma UK. 2020 [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  5. UNC Health. Mucus, Our Body’s Silent Defender | UNC Health Talk [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  6. Mucinex. Why do I Keep Coughing Up Mucus at Night | Mucinex® [Internet]. Mucinex USA. [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  7. Laki Naturals. The Benefits of a Sea Salt Gargle [Internet]. Laki Naturals. [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  8. Mount Sinai. Eucalyptus Information | Mount Sinai - New York [Internet]. Mount Sinai Health System. [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  9. BetterHealth Channel. What to expect when you quit smoking [Internet]. 2012 [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  10. Butler LM, Koh W-P, Lee H-P, Tseng M, Yu MC, London SJ. Prospective Study of Dietary Patterns and Persistent Cough with Phlegm among Chinese Singaporeans. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine [Internet]. 2006 Feb 1 [cited 2022 Jul 21];173(3):264–70. Available from:
  11. Butler LM, Koh W-P, Lee H-P, Yu MC, London SJ. Dietary Fiber and Reduced Cough with Phlegm. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2004 Aug;170(3):279–87.
  12. NHS Choices. Treatment - Bronchiectasis [Internet]. NHS. 2020 [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  13. NHS. Clearing phlegm from your lungs Patient Information/Advice [Internet]. 2021 May [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
  14. Wellness H &, Science. Understanding Mucus in Your Lungs [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Hana Hailu

Master's degree, Brain Science, University of Glasgow

Hana Hailu is an accomplished academic with a strong foundation in the field of brain science and pharmacology. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Brain Science from the prestigious University of Glasgow (2021-2022). Prior to this, Hana earned her Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc) in Applied Pharmacology from Queen Margaret University, where she studied from September 2017 to September 2021. With her deep knowledge and dedication, Hana is poised to make significant contributions to the world of neuroscience and pharmacology.

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