Complications & Implications of Mucus Plugs

Mucus plug, the excessive secretion of slippery substance produced by the cells lining the airways of the lungs, is a result of various respiratory conditions that exhibit mucus hypersecretion. These include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung disease defined by long term obstruction of airflow in the lungs and cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the cells that externally secrete substances in the body, according to a study published by “Respiratory Care” in September 2007.

Airway Obstruction

Airway obstruction is one of the most common sequelae of mucus plugs which can lead to fatal attacks in patients with bronchial asthma and other diseases that cause hypersecretion of the cells that line the bronchial tubes according to the aforementioned study published by “ RespiratoryCare”. Obstruction of endotracheal tube or respiratory tube by mucus plugs can also cause sudden respiratory compromise and arrest in very morbid patients hooked in respirators, according to a study published in 2009 by the “Chinese Medical Journal." Prompt suctioning is needed to remove the mucus plugs that may possibly block the airway of these patients 2.


Atelectasis, or localized obstruction of the lungs that may result from mucus plug obstruction, can occur resulting to the collapse of a portion of the lungs. This is enumerated by the study published by “Respiratory Care” in September 2007. The direct morbidity is due to transient decrease in oxygen supply to the lungs leading to decrease oxygen delivery to the other parts of the body. The middle portion of the right lung is the most commonly involved lung portion in atelectasis. Bronchoscopic removal of the obstructing mucus plug is essential in the management of patients of severe ateletasis.

Airflow Limitation

The flow of air during inhalation and exhalation within the lungs can become limited in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients due to partial obstruction of the excessive mucus plugs in the airway according the aforementioned study released by “Respiratory Care." This can result to severe episodes of coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and frequent respiratory infections.