If only you could wave a magic wand and make your symptoms disappear. While there's no instant fix for the thick mucus known as phlegm that gathers when you have chest congestion, you can manage your symptoms by avoiding certain habits.
It’s a myth that milk actually causes your body to produce phlegm. However, sipping milk may worsen your symptoms by thickening the phlegm, which makes it more irritating to your throat and harder for your body to get rid of. If you crave something creamy, go for icy dairy products such as frozen yogurt. The cold temperature may soothe throat discomfort and provide important fuel when you don't have much of an appetite. Drinking Too Little While you’re cutting back on milk, be sure to replace it with clear fluids. Drinking plenty of liquids is a top way to relieve your cough and phlegm. Warm fluids are especially beneficial, as they help loosen the phlegm and soothe your airways. Hot beverages may even help calm a coughing fit. Throughout the day, sip on cool water or warm, comforting liquids such as broth-based soups or herbal tea with honey and lemon.
Moisture helps minimize phlegm, coughing and throat pain. On the flip side, dry air may make your symptoms worse. If you have phlegm, particularly during cold winter months or in a dry climate, use a humidifier to add dampness to the air you breathe in. Linger in a steamy bath or shower for similar benefits. For kids with phlegm, using a cool-mist humidifier removes the risk of steam burns.
Rest allows your body to use its energy to heal, so taking off from work may help you recover faster from a chest infection. Plus, staying home prevents the spread of infection to others. If coughing makes it difficult to snooze well, take Mucinex®, which thins and loosens mucus for 12 hours. Propping your head up on pillows can also make breathing easier, and limiting caffeine may help you relax so you can rest.
While many phlegm-related problems can be managed through lifestyle steps, some scenarios call for a doctor's guidance:
- The phlegm is pink or bloody. Phlegm that appears pink or red-streaked may contain trace amounts of blood or indicate fluid in your lungs. If you cough up significant amounts of blood, you may have a more serious illness that needs treatment.
- Symptoms last on and on. It's normal for chest infections to last several days or even a few weeks. If your symptoms hang on longer, see your doctor to determine if you need specific tests or treatments.
- You have additional symptoms. If in addition to congestion and coughing you're experiencing symptoms such as confusion, chest pain or bluish-toned skin or lips, see your doctor. These could indicate the need for medical care.
- You're in a higher-risk group. Young children, senior adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems may require extra care to heal from a chest infection. If you fall into one of these categories, your physician can formulate an ideal treatment plan.
- Mayo Clinic: Cold symptoms: Does Drinking Milk Increase Phlegm?
- Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Foundation: Cough
- Mayo Clinic: Warm-Mist Versus Cool-Mist Humidifier: Which is Better for a Cold?
- Mucinex: Mucinex
- Medical Daily: Coughing Up Phlegm: What The Color Of Your Sputum Says About Your Health
- National Health Service: Chest Infection