What are the Most Common Causes of Morning Phlegm?

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  • Written By: Caitlin Shih
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 10 June 2019
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The most common cause of morning phlegm is postnasal drip, which occurs when excess mucus drips down to the throat or back of the nose. Postnasal drip canbe caused by many factors that range from minor to serious. Minor causes of postnasal drip include allergic reaction, irritation from airborne materials in the environment or nonallergic, noninfectious rhinitis. More severely, postnasal drip can lead to morning phlegm in cases of chronic sinusitis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While decongestants, nasal sprays and nasal washes can help ease the minor causes of phlegm, the more serious conditions will normally require a physician's care.

Airborne substances in an individual's sleep environment can cause an allergic reaction or irritation. An individual's personal allergies should be taken into account and the environment should be explored for any possible irritants. Sleeping with one's mouth open can also increase the likelihood of inhaling and compiling a buildup of debris in the nasal passages.

Nonallergic, noninfectious rhinitis is defined as inflammation of the internal airways of the nose that is not caused by an allergen or a viral or bacterial infection. In most cases, this type of rhinitis lingers after a cold or sinusitis. It is generally benign and will normally pass on its own.


Sinusitis by itself is defined as inflammation of the sinuses, usually due to allergy or viral infection. In rarer cases, growth of bacteria within an already inflamed and mucus-filled nasal passage can cause bacterial infection, and all of the aforementioned situations can cause morning phlegm. Chronic sinusitis is a case of sinusitis lasting more than eight weeks. It is typically more serious and requires extensive medical testing to generate a conclusive diagnosis regarding the cause.

Asthma is characterized by the chronic inflammation of an individual's airways and can be caused by a variety of environmental and genetic factors. Often times, individuals with asthma are more sensitive to environmental irritants, including cold air. This may not only cause the airways to restrict, but can also result in excessive mucus production. Some individuals who suffer from asthma may be especially prone to this during the night, making them more disposed to morning phlegm.

COPD is a lung disease that involves bronchitis and emphysema, two conditions often seen alongside each other. Both diseases tend to lead to a narrowing of the airway in the lungs as well as a significant increase in mucus production, both of which tend to exacerbate the other. These conditions are commonly seen in smokers and often require extensive medical treatment to control.

Nasal washes can aid in removing phlegm and debris from the nose, providing at least temporary relief if the postnasal drip is caused by an airborne substance in the sleep environment. If the drip is caused by an inflammation, a decongestant or nasal steroid spray can provide relief, but must usually be used routinely. Morning phlegm that is indicative of a more serious medical condition will usually require attention from a physician in order to be properly treated.


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Post 2

I was always told to look out for green or yellow phlegm in the morning, because that was a definite sign of a cold or other disease. I can't say I looked forward to check my phlegm in the morning, but it was usually a pretty good indicator of a health problem.

Post 1

The article doesn't mention it, but I remember when my dad was a heavy smoker, he would wake up every morning with a hacking wet cough. I think one of the side effects of breathing in all of that smoke is heavier phlegm in the morning.

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