As horrible as thick, sticky mucus is, it actually serves a vital function in the body. Mucus lines the mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs and gastrointestinal tract – helping to lubricate these surfaces, while acting as a filter to remove unwanted substances before they enter the body.
This incredible goo also contains antibodies and enzymes that help the body recognize and kill invaders like bacteria and viruses.
Of course, you can have too much of a good thing, and mucus is no exception. Respiratory and sinus infections, colds and flu, allergies and irritants like smoke, and even environmental pollution all trigger changes in mucus that can leave you uncomfortable, frustrated and downright miserable.
Although nipping the underlying cause of excess mucus in the bud is vital to normalize production, these natural remedies will help you manage your streaming or stuffy nose and congested chest in the meantime.
1. Blow Your Nose Properly
Probably the most obvious way to clear mucus from the nasal passages is to blow your nose!
However, you have to make sure you’re doing it correctly or it may cause more problems, according to some experts. Clear only one nostril at a time, blowing gently. (Blowing too hard can cause small openings in the sinus areas and can force irritants and bacteria further back into the body.)
Make sure to use clean tissues and wash your hands thoroughly afterward to prevent spreading bacteria.
2. Drink Warm Liquids
Make sure to stay hydrated with warm drinks while you’re under the weather. Not only will they provide you with some degree of comfort, but warm water, herbal teas and lemon water help to loosen the mucus in the chest and nasal passages.
When researchers at the Common Cold Center at Cardiff University in Britain tested the effects of hot and cold drinks on flu sufferers, they found that those who drank a hot beverage experienced ‘immediate and sustained relief from symptoms of runny nose’ as well as a reduction in coughing, sneezing, sore throat, chilliness and tiredness.
3. Inhale Steam
Used to enhance health for thousands of years, steam therapy is both effective and completely safe.
Breathing in steam serves to loosen up the mucus and phlegm so they can move out of your body more quickly. To make a steam bowl, boil water in a pot or kettle and transfer immediately to a large, heat proof bowl. (At this point you can stir in two spoons of fresh or dried herbs if you wish – such as rosemary, thyme, mint, lavender or eucalyptus.) Drape a towel over your head and lean over the bowl, positioning the towel to keep in as much steam as possible. Breathe in the vapors for up to ten minutes.
If this seems like too much effort, a steamy shower twice a day will also provide some relief.
4. Raise the Humidity
Adding extra moisture to the air in your home will help to thin out mucus in the nose and phlegm in the chest.
This can be achieved by using either a warm-mist or a cool-mist humidifier – although the cool-mist is a better option. Firstly, it’s safer, particularly if you have children or pets; and is more cost-effective, using less energy than the warm-mist version.
Keeping the machine clean is of the utmost importance though, as the growth of bacteria and molds will only serve to exacerbate your condition, and contribute to further mucus formation. Wipe it down every day with a solution of vinegar, water and tea tree oil.
5. Use a Neti Pot
A traditional Ayurvedic instrument which resembles a small teapot, the Neti pot is one of the most popular methods of performing nasal saline irrigation – the practice of flushing out the sinuses and nasal passages with a salt-water solution.
Studies have actually shown that a DIY salt water rinse is more effective than an over-the-counter decongestant spray!
University of Michigan scientists tested saline nose sprays and saline rinses in 121 adults with stuffy noses and sinus pain. While all participants reported fewer symptoms after eight weeks of treatment, the nasal rinse group showed far greater improvement in severity and frequency of symptoms.
Study subjects used an 8oz saline rinse twice daily. Make up your own by mixing one cup of distilled (or boiled and cooled) water, a half teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of baking soda. Use this in a neti pot (such as this one) to flush the mucus and trapped irritants right out of your nasal passages.
6. Apply Warm Compresses
To help loosen mucus further, allowing it to drain out of the nose, place a warm compress on the affected areas.
Simply wet a small towel with very warm water (or zap a damp washcloth in the microwave for 30 seconds). Lay this gently over the eyes, nose and cheeks and leave for three minutes.
Repeat this procedure two to six times a day until all the mucus has cleared.
7. Diffuse Essential Oils
With their strong aromas and antimicrobial properties, essential oils can be a powerful therapeutic tool when clearing away mucus and phlegm.
Some of the most potent mucus fighting oils include:
- Eucalyptus – antiseptic, antiviral, and decongestant.
- Tea tree – an effective antimicrobial, expectorant and antiseptic.
- Peppermint – helps to open nasal passages.
- Thyme – powerful antiseptic and great for colds, flu and chills.
- Basil – an antiseptic that helps open nasal passages.
- Rosemary – an antiseptic that helps open nasal passages.
- Pine – decongestant and antimicrobial.
- Lavender – antihistamine, antiseptic and antimicrobial.
- Chamomile – relieves and soothes congestion.
Add a few drops of a single oil, or a blend of the above oils, to your diffuser or oil burner and allow them to waft through the room.
You could also take a steamy bath scented with the oils, or shake a few drops on a tissue and hold it in front of your nose, being careful to avoid contact with the skin. At night time, sprinkle some on your pillow to loosen mucus as you snooze – lavender is particularly effective as it also encourages a restful sleep.
If the phlegm is especially concentrated in your throat, then gargling with salt and warm water can be helpful. This remedy creates a high-salt barrier which works to pull out fluids from the tissues in the throat area, helping to remove mucus, irritants and infections. You should also enjoy a noticeable reduction in inflammation, pain and mucus after gargling.
Dissolve a teaspoon of Himalayan pink salt (or sea salt) in a cup of hot water. Allow to cool slightly and then gargle with this solution. Repeat several times a day for continued relief.
9. Adjust Your Pillows
Sleeping with an elevated head is a great way to relieve congested nasal passages and enjoy a good night’s sleep – which is vital for helping your body deal with infection.
By sleeping this way, you’ll also be preventing the congestion from going to your lungs which can lead to an annoying and painful cough; and you should even experience relief from tinnitus – one of the side effects of a stuffy nose and head.
Some people may find sleeping with two pillows too uncomfortable. A good trick in this case is to place the additional pillow between the mattress and the box springs to create a more gradual slope.
10. Limit Exposure to Irritants
A stuffy or runny nose can be caused by anything that irritates or inflames the nasal tissues, which is why it’s important to become aware of your triggers and avoid them where possible.
For many people, that includes smoke – from cigarettes or open fires, strong chemical fumes, or sudden temperature changes. Other pollutants that contribute to mucus formation include exhaust fumes, smog, dust, pet dander and molds.
Take these steps to reduce home allergens and limit nasal irritation.
11. Black Elderberry
This herbal remedy is frequently used to soothe and shrink swollen mucus membranes, relieve nasal congestion, and to fight off infections that may lead to bronchitis and sinusitis.
Research has shown that it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities and may even reduce the amount of time people experience flu symptoms, especially if taken within twenty four to forty eight hours after symptoms begin.
Black elderberry comes in liquid or capsule form.
12. Licorice Root
Another favorite of herbalists for mucus, licorice root is said to ease congestion by helping to loosen and thin mucus in airways so that it can be expelled from the body. It may even fight the viruses that lead to an overproduction of mucus in the first place.
For colds and flu, licorice root can be combined with herbs like cayenne or ginger to intensify the effect.
13. Apple Cider Vinegar
According to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, apple cider vinegar (ACV) breaks up mucus in the body and relieves chronic sinusitis and allergy symptoms. Because it is also rich in potassium, it helps get rid of runny noses.
Add a tablespoon of the raw, unfiltered ACV with ‘the mother’ to a glass of water and drink it, repeating up to three times a day until symptoms clear. If you prefer, try one of these five tasty drinks to help you get your daily dose of ACV.
Apple cider vinegar may also be added to your bowl of boiling water before inhaling the steam.
14. Hit Your Pressure Points
By applying manual pressure to certain points in the body, proponents of acupressure believe that the body’s lines of energy are stimulated, which promotes healing.
This two minute video shows you how to utilize this alternative therapy to help move phlegm out of the throat and chest.
15. Strike a Pose
A yoga pose, that is! Grabbing a yoga mat can do wonders to clear congestion and mucus from the nasal passages.
Five poses are especially effective: the Bridge Pose, Camel Pose, Plow Pose, Bow Pose and Head Stand. Here are step-by-step instructions for completing each one.
16. Change Your Diet
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet will help the body fight off any infection that may be causing mucus formation, as well as helping to break up phlegm and congestion. In fact, a 2006 study found that diets high in sodium, meat and refined carbohydrates may increase mucus, while those containing plenty of fiber, fruits, vegetables and soy can limit it.
With this in mind, it’s advisable to avoid the following specific foods:
- Fish and shellfish
- Meat and poultry
- Dairy and chocolate
- Salt and these surprisingly high-salt foods
- White bread, white pasta, white rice
- Cakes and pastries
- Coffee and sodas
On the other hand, feel free to eat a variety of the following:
- Water and warm drinks
- Soybeans, other beans and lentils
- Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables
- Wholegrain rice, pasta, bread and other whole grains
- Garlic and other herbs and spices
17. Spice Up Your Meals
Although mentioned in the list above, it would be remiss not to highlight again the important role that spices can play in relieving congestion caused by mucus and phlegm.
Many spices, including chilies, contain capsaicin (the chemical which causes the burning sensation on your tongue when you eat it). Capsaicin is also responsible for the health benefits of spices – including their ability to kill pain.
Another bonus of capsaicin is that it irritates the mucus membranes in the nose, causing them to become inflamed and triggering the nose to ‘run’ – thus removing mucus, microbes and trapped irritants from the body.
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