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How to Get Rid of Phlegm After a Cold

Thick, discomfiting phlegm can be the result of persistent sinus infections or the aftermath of a cold. Either way, some self-help measures can increase your comfort and speed healing. In fact, the tips offered here will improve your sinus health in general.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Drink plenty of water. Thick, slow-flowing mucus is a signal to drink more water. The common wisdom is eight glasses of water a day, but the Mayo Clinic points out individual needs vary 1. Even mild dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic, causes you to feel tired 1. And it certainly leads to a thickening of sinus secretions. To be safe, the Mayo Clinic recommends between nine and 13 cups of beverages per day 1.

What Causes Clear Mucus in the Back of the Throat?

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Add humidity to the air. Another way to loosen phlegm is to use a vaporizer or humidifier. Particularly in winter, when colds and sinus infections are prevalent, dry indoor heat attacks sinuses. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a cool-mist humidifier or steam vaporizer may loosen mucus. It's best to use water and to be sure filters are clean and mold-free.

Irrigate your sinuses. Another, less known approach to relieving plugged sinus passages is to use sinus irrigation. The Mayo Clinic suggests a saline solution of ¼ tsp 1. salt to 2 cups of body temperature water. Using a bulb syringe, squeeze the solution into each nostril, then let it flow back out from the nostrils. This will sooth irritated passages and may help to dilute and remove phlegm. If you have recurrent problems, it might be worth it to invest in a device like a Waterpik or Interplak with a nasal irrigation attachment. The pulsating action has been shown to rejuvenate damaged nasal passages and sinus cavities. If your workplace is particularly dry, tote along a small squeeze bottle of saline solution, available in pharmacies (see Resources).


Blow your nose carefully. Something as simple as blowing your nose hard can actually drive mucus deeper into the sinus cavities. The result can be an increase in the number and duration of sinus infections.