How to Treat Increased Mucus in the Lungs

A variety of therapies can help reduce excessive mucus or phlegm accumulation that occurs with lung diseases like bronchiectasis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These secretions can block narrowed air passages, making it difficult for you to breathe. Mucus can also become a breeding ground for infections.

Treatment options include controlled coughing, medications, and chest physiotherapy. Your doctor may recommend a combination of methods for you. Decreasing lung mucus can reduce your symptoms and help you avoid infections, such as pneumonia.

techniques to clear mucus from the lungs
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

If you have lung disease, you can use at-home exercises to help prevent and decrease mucus build-up in your lungs. These simple techniques should be done regularly for prevention—before excessive mucus accumulates.

Controlled Coughing

Controlled coughing is a therapeutic technique that engages the chest and stomach muscles in a way that improves mucus clearance. There are two common methods of controlled coughing.

Deep Coughing:

  • Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the ground
  • Wrapping your arms around your stomach, inhale deeply
  • Keeping your lips pursed, emit a forceful cough while compressing your arms firmly against your stomach muscles

Huff Coughing:

  • Take a deep, slow breath to fully expand your lungs
  • Then, tensing your stomach muscles, make three rapid exhalations with your mouth open, making a "ha" sound with each exiting breath
  • Continue repeating this, keeping your core firm, until you feel the mucus breaking up
  • Take a deep cough to clear your lungs

Unlike hacking, which uses the chest muscles more than the diaphragm, controlled coughing focuses on stabilizing the core muscles to engage the diaphragm more effectively.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises involve taking prolonged breaths to help your lungs expand as you inhale (breath in) and to maximally exhale (breath out).

This is among a group of therapies described as pulmonary hygiene—techniques that use modifications in physical positioning to clear lung secretions.

Your therapist can teach you deep breathing techniques that you can do at home on a regular schedule.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

Several OTC medications can help clear excess mucus from your lungs. Robitussin and Mucinex (both are versions of guaifenesin) are commonly used expectorants.

Expectorants lubricate and thin the mucus so that it can be easily coughed up. They can also block the production of mucins, the main protein found in mucus.

Expectorants are usually available without a prescription, although some combination expectorants may contain prescription ingredients.

Prescriptions

Mucolytics include N-acetylcysteine and carbocysteine and are often only available by prescription.

They thin lung secretions through a different mechanism than expectorants, by breaking the chemical bonds in mucus to help make the secretions easier to cough up.

Chest Physiotherapy

Chest physiotherapy (CPT) includes techniques that are performed either manually or with a mechanical device. Some techniques can be done alone, while others require help from a partner, such as a therapist or a family member at home.

Manual CPT combines percussion (in which cupped hands are repeatedly clapped against the chest or back) and vibration (in which flat hands vibrate the chest wall) to loosen the mucus and induce a cough.

Your therapist will show you how to get into a position that uses gravity to help drain mucus.

Airway clearance devices are hand-held machines that use high-frequency vibration, low-frequency sound waves, and other techniques to break up mucus. They are easy to use by yourself. Some of the devices are worn like a vest, while others require you to breathe into them like a flute.

While you are having chest physiotherapy, you should inhale and exhale slowly and fully until the mucus is loose enough to be expelled. The routine can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

Mucus-clearing exercises should be done on a regularly scheduled basis to keep your air passages clear.

Alternative Medicine

You can also use natural remedies to help reduce the mucus in your lungs. Keep in mind that some complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies have side effects, despite being natural.

CAM therapies that can help clear mucus include:

  • Warm fluids: Drinking warm (not hot) liquids can help loosen thickened mucus. Options include tea, warm broth, or hot water with lemon.
  • Steam: You can use a device such as a cool-mist humidifier or steam vaporizer to breathe in warm air. Alternately, you can take a hot shower or breathe in vapors from a pot of simmering water. These methods introduce moist air into your air passages, which helps loosen the mucus.
  • Honey: Honey may reduce inflammation and coughing. It is not clear whether honey specifically helps in coughing up mucus.
  • Chinese medicine: Chinese herbs and treatments have been used, often with anecdotal reports of improvement. However, data is not clear about the benefits in terms of reducing mucus in the lungs. A few herbs—mao huang (Herba ephedrae), tao ren (Semen persicae), and Huang qin (Radix scutellariae), and qigong have been suggested as alternatives for easing symptoms of respiratory disease.

Speak to your doctor before trying any herbs or supplements. Don't inhale oils, as they may cause an inflammatory or allergic lung reaction.

A Word From Verywell

Reducing mucus secretions and coughing it up can help prevent infections, so it is important that you use mucus-reducing strategies on a regular basis—not just when you symptoms act up. Talk to your doctor or respiratory therapist about the best approaches for managing your mucus build-up if you have been diagnosed with pulmonary disease.

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Article Sources
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