Phlegm is different from other forms of mucus because it comes from the lungs instead of the nasal passages. Getting rid of phlegm is important because it can cause illness and congestion if left in the body. Phlegm from sinus infections and chest colds can sometimes be removed by medicine such as nasal sprays and expectorants. Medicines that suppress coughing and swallowing phlegm don't help a person get rid of it.
Colored phlegm may be a sign or bronchial infection, and some people believe that the color can be analyzed in order to find out what is wrong. If the phlegm is green, yellow, or brown, this might indicate an infection. Brown and gray phlegm is usually coughed up by smokers and occurs when their bodies are expelling the tar found in cigarettes.
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Getting rid of phlegm for smokers typically involves quitting, since smokers tend to suffer from a higher rate of bronchial and lung infections than non-smokers. If blood is found in the phlegm, it could be a sign of lung cancer. Quitting smoking will typically see the level of phlegm become reduced after a few months.
Other causes of phlegm include sinus infections, colds, and the flu. Using a decongestant or nasal spray will offer temporary relief for mucus in the sinuses, but this won't necessarily rid the body of phlegm. Chest congestion is often caused by post-nasal drip and is not considered to be phlegm. This is because the mucous glands within the nasal cavities are the cause of the congestion.
Chest colds or bronchitis produce phlegm that can be loosened by cough expectorant medicines. The whole purpose of an expectorant is to loosen the congestion in the chest and make the patient cough. This is often a way of getting rid of phlegm because mucus is expelled with the air of the cough.
Cough suppressants should be avoided as they actually prevent the body from expelling phlegm. Suppressants are designed to numb pain, but they also completely prevent the patient from coughing. This is a problem because the process of suppression allows more phlegm to build up in the lungs.
When phlegm is coughed up, it should be spit out — not swallowed. Phlegm is a sticky substance that clings to the lungs and bronchial tubes, and its function is to fight infections because it possesses glycoproteins and immunoglobulins. When it is coughed up, it is a signal that it has served its purpose. Swallowing the phlegm often results in it returning to the pulmonary system where it initially came from.