How to Clear Phlegm From Your Throat

You don’t really know how the phlegm in your throat got there, but removing it is kind of gross. It turns out, phlegm actually serves a useful purpose: The thick, sludgy substance—made up of mostly water, salt, and antibodies—is designed to help capture and clear bacteria and other unwanted microorganisms from your nose and throat. Even when you’re feeling fine, your body naturally produces about a quart of phlegm every day. Without it, germs and irritants in the air would easily slip into your lungs through your air passages. And when you’re sick or suffering from allergies, your body ramps up its phlegm production in an effort to clear away the bad bugs it knows are present.

So here’s the big question: How do you clear phlegm from your throat?

Even though it might not taste good, there’s nothing wrong with swallowing it. In fact, that’s probably what your body expects you to do, which is why phlegm naturally drains down into the back of your throat. If you go the swallowing route, your stomach acids and digestive system will simply eradicate the phlegm and any of the harmful stuff it might have snared. Sipping on water may also be a helpful way to clear phlegm from your throat.

The alternative, of course, is bringing the phlegm up. Do it the right way: Close your mouth and suck air in through your nose. Your goal is to use your nose to pull excess phlegm down into your throat, where your tongue and throat muscles can get a good grip on it. Just make sure you’re not chewing anything when you try this, or you could suck food down into your windpipe. Form a U-shape with your tongue while forcing air and saliva forward using the muscles at the back of your throat. When you have the phlegm in your mouth, take notice to the color.

The color could provide important clues about your health:

If your phlegm is yellow/green, you likely have a viral infection. This hue is caused by an enzyme produced by your white blood cells that are fighting off the infection. If the thick phlegm persists more than a week, it may indicate that the viral infection has progressed to a bacterial infection. If your phlegm is clear, you probably have allergies. Allergies trigger your mucus membranes to produce histamines, which cause your cells to make even more phlegm. Taking an anti-histamine will help stop excess fluid production. If your phlegm is red (bloody), it’s most likely caused by dry air. Amp up your sources of moisture: Use a saline nasal spray, or try using a humidifier in your bedroom. But if you’re seeing blood all the time—particularly if you’re a smoker or heavy drinker—that could be a sign of a more serious issue, including cancer. See your doctor, stat.

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