An Overview of Excess Mucus Production

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Excess mucus, sometimes referred to as chronic mucus hypersecretion or chronic sputum production, can be caused by a wide range of factors, from allergies to an infection, cigarette smoke exposure to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Aside from being an uncomfortable and irritating symptom, it can cause coughing, wheezing, and other symptoms, depending on the cause and severity.

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How long it lasts and how severe excess mucus can become are highly variable. Some may experience excess mucus production as chronic bronchitis, which is defined as the presence of a chronic, productive cough, producing sputum (phlegm or mucus), for at least three consecutive months in two consecutive years. Others may just experience an increase in mucus temporarily, such as with allergies or a viral infection.

Symptoms include:

  • Sore or scratchy throat
  • Feeling the need to cough
  • Productive or nonproductive cough (dry cough)
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Congestion in the nasal passages and airways


While a small amount of mucus every once in a while is normal, an increased amount of mucus buildup that lasts for a long time or an increase in the mucus thickness or stickiness may be causes for concern. Over the long term, chronic mucus production can impact your health by damaging airways and reducing lung function, limiting your ability to engage in physical activity, and decreasing your overall quality of life.

In COPD patients specifically, too much mucus can increase the number of exacerbations (flare-ups, when symptoms increase), as well as the risk of respiratory-related death.


Mucus is produced by the goblet cells found in the mucus membranes of the body. It serves an important purpose: to trap debris, irritants, and bacteria so they can be coughed up and removed (cleared) from the lower respiratory tract.

In some cases, the overproduction and hypersecretion (excess secretion) of mucus is also related to an inability to cough up the excess, due to the wasting away (atrophy) of lung or throat muscles or damage to the cilia in the airways (the hairlike structures responsible for pushing mucus up and out).

There are several factors that can contribute to mucus overproduction and hypersecretion in the first place:

  • Allergies: Environmental triggers such as pollen, pollution, or dander may be irritating to the body, so the body attempts to clear the foreign substances by creating more and more mucus to cough up.
  • Asthma: The swelling and inflammation of airways that goes hand in hand with asthma also results in mucus overproduction.
  • Infection: Viral infections in the lungs and airways (known as bronchitis) may result in excess mucus production as the immune system works to trap the virus and remove it from the body.
  • Smoking: Smoking and cigarette smoke exposure are the biggest factors in chronic excess mucus production. Studies show that cigarette smokers with both chronic bronchitis and limited airflow have an increased number of goblet cells and inflammatory cells in their airway.
  • COPD: Some patients with COPD have increased mucus production and secretion because of an overabundance of goblet cells and oversized mucus glands in their airways compared with healthy people. This overproduction results in a chronic cough. Unfortunately, people with COPD may have difficulty clearing excess mucus because of an ineffective cough and other aspects of their condition.
  • Cystic fibrosis: A genetic disease resulting in very thick, sticky mucus production, cystic fibrosis affects the lungs and other organs, such as the pancreas. The sticky sputum makes it very hard to clear the airways in order to breathe.


If you've had a lingering productive cough or an increase in the amount or thickness of your mucus, be sure to make an appointment with your healthcare provider, who will ask you several questions about your cough and mucus levels.

The best way to determine if your excess mucus is a result of a viral or bacterial infection is to provide a sample for a sputum culture. You'll simply cough up about a teaspoon of mucus into a clean cup that's then sent to a lab for analysis.


Treatment is focused on helping you produce and secrete less mucus and clear more of it out of your airway. If you smoke, quitting smoking can help clear up your cough. In fact, quitting smoking is the best way to improve many conditions, including chronic bronchitis and COPD.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Your local pharmacy will have over-the-counter (OTC) options that can help relieve mucus buildup, including:

  • Decongestants like Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and Vicks Sinex (oxymetazoline), which can help stop mucus production
  • Expectorants like Mucinex (guaifenesin), which help remove mucus from the respiratory tract by increasing the water content of mucus, making it easier to cough up

Home Remedies

If your condition isn't serious and you prefer a more natural option, consider these at-home solutions:

  • Using a humidifier at night
  • Adding a couple drops of eucalyptus essential oil to your shower floor while you rinse off
  • Taking honey as an anti-inflammatory cough suppressant

Prescription medications

When your excess mucus is a chronic issue, talk to your healthcare provider, who can prescribe suitable treatments. For example, people with chronic bronchitis may use inhalers—often more than one—to ease airway swelling and open the airways. The oral corticosteroid prednisone is often prescribed for chronic bronchitis, as well. 

Physical treatments

Chest physical therapy, postural drainage (using gravity to move mucus from the lungs to the throat and out), and using airway clearance devices to help clear mucus may also be helpful if you have mucus overproduction.

A Word From Verywell

Having a long-term cough is uncomfortable, and it's best not to let a nagging cough persist for too long without getting examined by a healthcare provider, especially when OTC remedies have not helped. Your cough could be signaling a serious condition.

Chronic bronchitis might be a warning sign of COPD, as research shows that chronic bronchitis is a predictor of lung disease. In one study, young adults who had a chronic cough and phlegm but normal lung function had almost three times the risk of developing COPD than those who didn't have chronic bronchitis.

Whatever the cause—from allergies to something more serious—your healthcare provider will be able to run tests to detect the reason for your excess mucus and be able to treat it.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kim V, Criner GJ. The chronic bronchitis phenotype in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: features and implications. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2015;21(2):133-41. doi:10.1097/MCP.0000000000000145

  2. Kim V, Oros M, Durra H, et al. Chronic bronchitis and current smoking are associated with more goblet cells in moderate to severe COPD and smokers without airflow obstruction. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(2):e0116108. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116108

  3. Ramos FL, Krahnke JS, Kim V. Clinical issues of mucus accumulation in COPDInt J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2014; 9: 139–150. doi:10.2147/COPD.S38938

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