How to Treat Increased Mucus in the Lungs

If you have bronchiectasis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), clearing mucus from your lungs is an important part of managing your lung disease. Excessive mucus or phlegm build-up can block narrowed air passages, making it difficult for you to breathe. Increased mucus can also lead to infections, such as pneumonia.

Luckily, a variety of treatment options, including controlled coughing, medications, and chest physiotherapy, can help. Here's a look at some of the techniques your healthcare provider may recommend to decrease lung mucus and reduce your symptoms.

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 to loosen and remove excess mucus.

Controlled Coughing

Controlled coughing is a therapeutic technique that engages the chest and stomach muscles to clear mucus from the lungs. There are two common methods of controlled coughing.

Deep Coughing:

  • Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the ground.
  • Wrap your arms around your stomach, inhale deeply.
  • Keep your lips pursed, cough forcefully while compressing your arms firmly against your stomach muscles.

Huff Coughing:

  • Take a deep, slow breath to fully expand your lungs.
  • Tensing your stomach muscles, exhale three times rapidly. Making a "ha" sound with each breath.
  • Repeat this, keeping your core firm, until you feel the mucus breaking up.
  • Cough deeply to clear your lungs.

Unlike a hacking cough, 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 slowly breathing in (inhaling) and breathing out (exhaling) to help your lungs expand. This is among a group of therapies called pulmonary hygiene, which uses physical manipulation techniques to help you cough up sticky mucus and clear the lungs.

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 of which contain guaifenesin, are commonly used expectorants.

Expectorants thin and loosen 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 over the counter, although some combination drugs containing expectorants and other ingredients may require a healthcare provider's prescription.

Prescription Medication

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

These medications work differently than expectorants. They break the chemical bonds in mucus to help make it easier to cough up.

Chest Physiotherapy

Chest physiotherapy (CPT) includes techniques performed either manually or with a mechanical device. The routine can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. You can do some techniques by yourself, while others require help from a partner, such as a therapist or a family member at home.

  • Manual CPT combines chest percussion and vibration to loosen the mucus and induce a cough. Chest percussion involves a therapist or loved one clapping on your chest or back to help loosen the thick mucus in your lungs so you can cough it up. Vibration is done by placing flat hands on the chest wall and making a shaking motion.
  • 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. Your therapist will show you how to get into a position that uses gravity to help drain mucus.

Mucus-clearing exercises should be done on a regular schedule 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. However, it is not clear whether honey specifically helps in coughing up mucus.
  • Chinese medicine: Chinese herbs and treatments have been used traditionally to reduce mucus in the lungs, and there are anecdotal reports of improvement. However, scientific data is not clear about the benefits. A few herbs—mao huang (Herba ephedrae), tao ren (Semen persicae), and Huang qin (Radix scutellariae)—have been suggested for easing symptoms of respiratory disease. Qigong, a practice of breathing exercises and movements, may also help.

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

Summary

Clearing mucus from your lungs is an important part of managing lung diseases like bronchiectasis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Controlled coughing, deep breathing, over-the-counter and prescription medications, chest physiotherapy, and alternative therapies can all play a role in reducing, loosening, and coughing up mucus to prevent lung infections.

A Word From Verywell

It's important that you use these mucus-reducing strategies on a regular basis, not just when your symptoms act up. If you have been diagnosed with pulmonary disease, talk to your healthcare provider or respiratory therapist about the best approaches for managing your mucus build-up.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I naturally get rid of mucus in the lungs?

    One way to get rid of mucus or phlegm naturally is by doing controlled huff coughing. There are five steps in this process:

    1. Sit up straight, slightly tilt your chin toward the ceiling, and open your mouth.
    2. Slowly take a deep breath in, filling your lungs about three-quarters full.
    3. Hold your breath for three seconds.
    4. Forcefully exhale in a slow, continuous manner.
    5. Repeat steps one to four at least two or three more times. Then, perform a single strong cough. This should remove mucus concentrated in the larger airways.
  • Is chest congestion common in COVID-19?

    Yes, chest congestion or pressure is experienced by roughly one-third of people with COVID-19. This lung congestion can include coughing up thick mucus. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, fatigue, and a dry cough.

  • What causes phlegm?

    Phlegm and mucus are naturally produced substances that line the body's internal tissues. This helps protect and moisturize the tissues as well as trap potential irritants.

  • What medicine can be used to clear phlegm from the throat?

    Mucus thinners, also known as mucolytics, are over-the-counter medicines that help thin mucus or phlegm in the airways, making it easier to cough out. Two types of mucus thinners include Pulmozyme (dornase alfa) and hypertonic saline.

Was this page helpful?
6 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. Aaron SD. Mucolytics for COPD: negotiating a slippery slope towards proof of efficacy. Eur Respir J. 2017;50(4). doi:10.1183/13993003.01465-2017

  2. Warnock L, Gates A. Chest physiotherapy compared to no chest physiotherapy for cystic fibrosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(12):CD001401. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001401.pub3

  3. Tong H, Liu Y, Zhu Y, Zhang B, Hu J. The therapeutic effects of qigong in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the stable stage: a meta-analysis. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019;19(1):239. doi:10.1186/s12906-019-2639-9

  4. Centers for Respiratory Health. Clearing lung mucus in five easy steps with huff coughing. Published August 13, 2021.

  5. Cleveland Clinic health essentials. Mucus and phlegm: What to do if you have too much. Published January 25, 2018.

  6. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Mucus thinners.

Additional Reading