What Causes Thick Mucus In The Throat

Understanding mucus

The mucus is an aqueous, sticky liquid produced by mucous glands. It lines the periphery of all organs exposed to the external environment (lungs, throat, nose, and sinuses). Mucus is made of many components including electrolytes, lipids, and other small proteins.1

What does mucus do in our body

It is a protective substance and facilitates the essential role of creating a moisturising layer. It traps external particles i.e. viruses, and dust, which can, be then eliminated from organ cavities. On the other hand, it allows the diffusion and exchange of gases and nutrients. 

Difference between mucus and phlegm

Phlegm is a type of mucus made by the lower respiratory tract (throat and lungs) in response to inflammation and is thicker than mucus but serves the same purpose. Typically, mucus is blown out of the nose, and phlegm is coughed up from the lung. 

How does it feel having so much mucus in your throat

Post-nasal drip occurs when excess mucus drips from the back of the nose to the upper part of the throat. Under normal conditions, the mucus mixes with saliva and is swallowed unnoticed. However, too much mucus from the nasal cavities can only run through the nose (runny nose) or back down the throat (postnasal drip).3 This can be unpleasant and causes trouble swallowing with the repeated clearing of the throat. Too much mucus can also impact voice making it gurgles and can even cause difficulty sleeping. 

What causes excess mucus production?

Many different conditions can cause excess mucus production including rhinitis allergies like hay fever, asthma, and bronchitis, infections like common colds and sinus infections, non-allergic rhinitis, and nasal polyps.

  • Allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the nasal passage triggered by allergens like pollen, mould, or particles from certain animals
  • Nasal polyps are growth in the nasal passage or sinuses which is painless and non-cancerogenic. They form due to persistent infection, allergic reactions, and certain immune disorders
  • Lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, and chronic bronchitis. Catarrh is a build of excess mucus which is usually temporary but with chronic conditions, it is called chronic catarrh2
  • COPD is a group of conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis that cause breathing difficulty. Whereas cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition causing mucus to build up in the lung. Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs which cause triggers the goblet cells to produce mucus to clear out the infection
  • Acid reflux is when excess acid from the stomach back up into the throat. This can irritate and damage the throat and can trigger the production of mucus therefore, one of the symptoms of acid reflux is excessive mucus or phlegm production

What are the effects

Excess mucus production can cause a build-up of mucus in the airway or cavities of the body and is called catarrh. It typically affects the back of the nose, throat, or sinuses (air-filled cavities in the bones of the face). 

How to manage thick mucus in the throat


Catarrh can lead to headaches, facial pain, and reduced ability to sense taste and smell. It can cause a sensation in the ear and some temporary partial hearing loss. Most of the complications of catarrh are associated with the throat and nose including blocked or runny nose, persistent cough, sore throat, the feeling of mucus in the back of the throat, and constant need to clear your throat. Although mucus production is completely normal which benefits the body, excess mucus can cause breathing difficulties and infection. 

Risk factors

Environment and lifestyle factors such as smoking, irritants (dust, pollution, chemicals), and a dry environment can also impact mucus production. 

Treating thick mucus in throat

Natural remedies

Many remedies and self-care can help break up excess mucus build-up in the throat, including gargling with warm salt water, using a humidifier, staying hydrated, avoiding irritants, and smoking. Nasal rinsing helps rinse out excess mucus by passing water or saline solution through the nasal passages. 


Pharmacists can be consulted about suitable medication available over the counter like decongestants, nasal sprays, or antihistamines. Although decongestants are only appropriate for temporary relief, antihistamines and decongestants may be beneficial in cases involving a viral infection, sinusitis, or allergies. Nasal sprays and steroid drugs can also be used to treat allergic symptoms.

When To seek medical attention

If catarrh persists and interferes with daily life, seeking medical attention would be important as it might be a sign of an underlying condition that could be treated to relieve excess mucus production. Seek medical advice to rule out other causes, such as a bacterial infection, if the mucus has an unpleasant smell, if you have a fever or wheezing, or if the symptoms persist for more than 10 days. If there is any blood in the mucus, get medical help right away.


Mucus production is completely normal but everyone gets acute excess mucus production due to common colds. However persistent mucus buildup could be a sign to seek professional advice. 


  1. Bansil, Rama, and Bradley S. Turner. “The Biology of Mucus: Composition, Synthesis and Organization.” Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews, vol. 124, Jan. 2018, pp. 3–15. DOI.org (Crossref), available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addr.2017.09.023.
  2. Catarrh.” Nhs.Uk, 18 Oct. 2017, updated 18 Oct 2017. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/catarrh/.
  3. Postnasal Drip | SRUK https://www.sruk.co.uk/scleroderma/scleroderma-and-your-body/post-nasal-drip/. Accessed 6 Oct. 2023.
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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Misha Siddiqui

Master's degree, Integrated immunology, University of Oxford, England

2nd year PhD candidate at institute of cancer research and AstraZeneca applying deep learning to understanding immunometabolism using multi-omics. I have a masters in integrated immunology from the university of oxford and undergraduate in applied medical sciences from UCL.

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