In most parts of the country, allergy season is in full swing. If you don’t have allergies, there’s always the risk of a troublesome spring or summer cold. But, no matter which affliction your respiratory system ends up doing battle with, you’re going to have to deal with mucus.
Mucus definitely has the “yuck” factor, but it’s way more beneficial than most people realize. Mucus actually plays an important role in keeping us healthy by serving as our first line of defense against pathogens.
Mucus-producing tissues line the nose, mouth, throat, sinuses, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. Mucus serves as a protective barrier over these surfaces. It prevents the tissues underneath from drying out, and it traps unwanted invaders like viruses, bacteria, dust, allergens, etc., so that they can’t get into your body.
Normally, we aren’t bothered by our body’s normal production of mucus. In fact, we barely even notice it…that is, until one wayward virus, bacterium, or other pathogen makes it past the mucus membrane and we end up sick.
When illness strikes—or when allergies or conditions such as acid reflux flare up—mucus becomes much more noticeable. Not only can these health issues throw the body’s mucus production into overdrive; they can cause a change in its consistency, making it thicker, stickier, sometimes runnier, and all-around annoying.
In most cases, the overproduction of mucus isn’t problematic and it’s best to let the body fight the bug or allergy off on its own. But if too much mucus is making life especially difficult, there are several drug-free, natural things you can try at home to thin out, loosen up, and “unload” the mucus.
Moist, humid air can help release mucus and clear up congestion. There are several ways to increase humidity. Probably the easiest is to use a cool mist humidifier, which you can leave on safely all day long. (To avoid mold and mildew buildup, follow instructions for proper cleaning.)
You can also turn your bathroom into a steamy sauna by running the hot water in the shower for a while, then stepping into the room. If you prefer not to waste water though, you can get the same effect by filling a large bowl with very hot water, leaning over the bowl, covering your head and the bowl with a towel to trap the steam, and breathing deeply through your nose.
Gargling warm salt water can help clear out any mucus that’s in the back of your throat. Simply dissolve ½ teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm filtered/distilled water. Take a sip, tilt your head back, gargle for 10–20 seconds (or as long as you can), then spit it out. Repeat as necessary.
Nasal irrigation using a saltwater rinse is an excellent way to remove mucus and any particles from your sinuses.
To make the rinse, mix eight ounces of warm distilled water (never use tap water!) with ¼ teaspoon of salt. Fill a bulb syringe or neti pot with the saltwater solution. Lean over the sink, tilt your head to one side, and gently insert the tip of the pot or syringe into your upper nostril.
Squeeze or pour the solution into your upper nostril and allow it to drain out of your lower nostril. Repeat on the other side, then blow your nose to fully clear your sinuses.
Don’t forget to clean your syringe or neti pot after use.
Certain essential oils can help to thin mucus so it can be more easily eliminated. Peppermint and eucalyptus are the most effective for this purpose.
You can use essential oils a few different ways. You can diffuse it into the air using an inexpensive diffuser.
You can add a couple drops into a hot bath, or apply it topically by mixing a drop or two with about 10–12 drops of a carrier oil like jojoba or coconut oil. If using a particular essential oil for the first time, apply the mixture to the inside of your forearm to make sure you don’t have a reaction from it. If you can tolerate it with no issue, apply it to your chest and breathe it in deeply to achieve the full therapeutic effect.
Of course, the old drugstore standby, Vicks VapoRub, contains eucalyptus. So, if you don’t have or use essential oils, head over to your nearest pharmacy and pick up this inexpensive, century-old remedy. Use as directed.
Believe it or not, certain foods have the power to thin and dry out excess mucus.
Ginger has been used for centuries as a natural decongestant, antiviral, and antibacterial. To use it for this purpose, steep a tablespoon of freshly cut ginger slices in hot water, and drink several times a day. Or you can simply chew on raw ginger throughout the day.
Cayenne pepper is another option that helps, thanks to its active ingredient called capsaicin—the compound that gives peppers their heat. You can mix a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper in fresh ginger tea (above) to multiply the mucus-loosening effect.
Garlic is also a natural expectorant that has anti-microbial properties to fight off viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that enter the respiratory tract and cause excess mucus in the first place.
Finally, honey has wonderful soothing properties and has actually been found in some studies to ease cough more effectively than over-the-counter expectorants.1 Use it in tea, or swallow a spoonful as needed throughout the day. (Note: Babies should not be given honey.)
Occasionally, excess mucus production may indicate a more serious problem, especially if it is severe, persistent, comes with fever or muscle aches, and doesn’t improve with self-care. In that case, see your doctor. Otherwise, these home remedies—and a little bit of patience—should help. Give them a try!