You might want to hold off with that wish. Phlegm is actually good for you. Well, not the thing itself, but what it represents. Phlegm is mucous that becomes congealed and visible. It's almost always a sign of your body fighting off whatever infection is wreaking havoc on your respiratory system – which is actually a good thing. Phlegm is primarily composed of mucous, dead bacteria and virus, dead white blood cells, and various tissues and cells. The difference between phlegm and other mucous is that phlegm comes from your lungs, not from your nasal passes.
In around 400 BC it was thought that phlegm was part of the four humors, the four basic substances that were supposedly to combine the human body. The other three humors were black bile, bile, and blood, and when they were balanced, the body would achieve harmony and would thus be healthy. A lack or excess of any of the humors addressed in diseases or disabilities. It was the ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates (of the Hippocratic Oath fame) who is credited for coming up with this theory. For 2,000 years, it influenced medical thinking until it was discredited in the 1800s.
While phlegm is an indication that your body's immune system is working overtime to get rid of those nasty invaders that are trying to make you sick, coughing up phlegm every few minutes is still a rather unpleasant practice. Here are several things you can do to get rid of the phlegm quicker so you will not have to find yourself in potentially embarrassing and totally awkward situations.
If you're a smoker, cut the habit. Everyone knows that smoking aggravates and promotes several lung and bronchial problems. As if body infections are not enough, respiratory diseases caused by smoking will give your body additional health issue baggage it does not need. Smoking interferees with your body's ability to fight off any infection, so whatever problems it is currently engaged in that resolved in the formation of mucous will be prolonged. So, your phlegm problem will drag on longer. Smoking also kills the cilia that line your lungs, making it harder for you to cough out phlegm. If you've been coughing up brown or gray-colored phlegm, it means that your body is screaming for you to lay off the cigarettes. It would do you well to cut out the filthy habit before those browns and grains became speckled with red – a sure precursor to something serious, like lung cancer.
Treat any nasal or sinus infection that you have. As mentioned earlier, phlegm is just an accumulation of mucous and other dead substances that coagulate and become invisible. Mucous is not a foreign object – your body's airways produce mucous regularly. These mucus secretaries do not accumulate because they're regularly cleared to your throat where they are taken down by the saliva. If you have an infection that blocks normal passage to the airways and throat, the mucus does not get drained down by the saliva and then accumulates. Fixing the infection will help fix the additional congestion, easing the accumulation of mucus and phlegm.
Take an expectorant. Expectorants are medicines you can take to clear and loosen up any mucus and phlegm in your respiratory tract. They work by thinning out the mucus so you will be able to easily dislodge it when you cough. Common expectorant drugs are those that contain guaifenesin and bromhexine, so when buying expectorants, be sure to check if these ingredients are present. As with buying any medicine over the counter, be sure to consult with your physician first, just in case you might be subject to complications because of them.
Do not take cough suppressants. Sure, it is pretty annoying when you have a hacking cough every five minutes, causing you to spit out phlegm at pretty much the same rate, but coughing is your body's way of trying to dislodge the phlegm. If you're taking cough suppressants or anything that inhibits your ability to cough, you're essentially allowing the production and build-up of mucus and phlegm in your system since you've basically shut down your body's mechanism to expel them. The sooner you get all the phlegm out of your system, the sooner your coughing will stop, and the sooner you will find relief.
Drink plenty of fluids and liquids. Plenty of liquids and fluids help loosen up any hard, sticky phlegm that is crying your system. Fluids also help wash down mucus that is regularly deposited on your throat, thereby lessening their chances of building up and coagulating. There are also herbal teas and drinks that help you deal with respiratory problems, and the fewer complications you have, the better your chances of getting rid of respiratory disease effects – mucus and phlegm included.
Spit the phlegm out; do not swallow it. Among the many components that make up phlegm are substances like immunoglobulins and glycoproteins that help your body fight off the infection. When these substances get killed (together with the bacteria and virus they were fighting), they become part of what makes up phlegm. When phlegm gets coughed out, it means that they have served their purpose – remnants and refusal of the battle, so to speak – and are no longer necessary in the proper functioning of the body. They have to be expelled. Therefore, spit them out and do not swallow them back. Aside from the fact that swallowing phlegm is gross and unsanitary, it sometimes gets reintroduced to your pulmonary system, worsening your situation.
There are also home brew remedies you can try that will help in getting rid of your phlegm. Eucalyptus oil mixed with boiling water is a good way to decongest your chest and lessen the abundance of phlegm in your respiratory system. Two to three drops of the oil in boiling water should be enough to do the trick. Hold a towel over your head and deeply breathe in the steam. This will help clear out congested passageways of your respiratory tract, allowing you to spit out the phlegm more easily. Garlic is also said to have expectorant properties, and is considered to be a good supplement for farming congion.
When your phlegm starts showing up in different colors, it's about time to have yourself checked by a physician. Take a sample of your phlegm for analysis. Different colors usually indicate an under condition. Normal phlegm is usually clear and white. Yellow phlegm means that your immune system is functioning properly and is responding to something. Greenish phlegm means that there is definitely an infection in your body. Rusty spots in green phlegm are often an indication of something serious, like internal respiratory micro-bleeding or pneumonia. Brownish phlegm can be a sign of infection, as well as symptoms of too much smoking, as resin is sticking to the phlegm. When this happens, it is always advisable to limit or just stop your smoking habit, as it may be exacerbating whatever respiratory condition you may have.