WHAT CAUSES EXCESS MUCUS?

Most of us think of excess mucus as a problem that only strikes during cold and flu season. In fact, excess mucus can have many causes, and symptoms can hit at any time of year. Excess mucus symptoms can include

  • chest congestion
  • chesty cough, especially early in the morning
  • wet cough
  • a hacking cough with mucus
  • frequent throat-clearing
  • excess mucus in nose and sinuses

If you’ve got one of these symptoms, then you’ve probably got a problem with excess mucus. But what’s causing it?

The common cold

Colds are caused by viruses. They are spread from person to person, and you can catch one through direct contact or by ingesting fluid, such as saliva, that contains a cold virus. While cold weather doesn’t directly cause colds, rhinovirus – the most common cause of colds – is better able to reproduce at cooler temperatures.

Try taking an expectorant
Medicines containing guaifenesin, an expectorant, help thin and loosen excess mucus. They get the mucus moving again, and make coughs more productive, so it’s easier for your body to expel the excess mucus.

Allergies

Allergies can stimulate your body to produce excess mucus, adding to congestion. This kind of mucus congestion is most common in spring (allergy season) but some allergies, such as dust mites, can occur year-round.

Environmental pollutants

Environmental pollutants can also trigger your body to start overproducing mucus. These can include outdoor pollutants, such as

  • car or diesel exhaust
  • wood smoke
  • industrial exhaust

Or indoor pollutants, such as

  • cigarette smoke
  • pet fur
  • mold
  • household chemicals

Chronic disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the umbrella term for a group of chronic lung diseases that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Symptoms of these diseases may include:

  • increased breathlessness
  • smoker’s cough
  • excess mucus
  • frequent coughing (with and without mucus)
  • wheezing
  • tightness in the chest

These conditions can be serious, so if you have these symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor.

As you can see, many of the causes of excess mucus are not limited to a particular time of year, whether it’s cold and flu season, or allergy season. They can strike you at any time. And the really annoying thing is, these symptoms don’t always go away by themselves fast enough.

Excess mucus: why it’s a problem

Mucus is a part of our body’s frontline defence against infection. It’s produced by the mucus membranes which line your mouth, nose, throat, sinuses and lungs, and it works with your cilia, the tiny hairs which line your airways. Mucus traps particles, such as:

  • dust
  • allergens
  • irritants
  • bacteria
  • viruses

to stop them entering your system.

When mucus becomes too thick, dense or dry, it can build up in your airways, preventing the cilia from doing its work of transporting unwanted particles out of your body, and creating an unhealthy environment. This triggers your body’s cough reflex, as your body tries to expel the build-up of mucus, leading to wet or nagging coughs.

We can’t always avoid the things that cause excess mucus. But knowing what could be excess mucus triggers is a good first step.