It seems that every time the temperature drops and the snow rolls in, a whole host of health issues that you don’t have any other time of year bubble to the surface. From respiratory infections to the common cold to sinus infections to allergies, for most of the winter our noses are running, our throats are sore, and our eyes are itchy.
While these are incredibly unpleasant symptoms, the one that really burns me up most of the time is a drippy or congested nose — really, anything that disrupts the natural flow of air is a hindrance.
But, have you ever asked why mucus and phlegm are such pervasive issues during the winter months? What causes that nose to run so or clog up to the point of breathing solely from your mouth? And, most importantly, how in the heck do you make it stop without giving in to those harsh chemical-rich drugs?
Well, we’re here to help! Let’s discuss something you never thought you’d want to learn about — mucus and phlegm.
Mucus versus Phlegm: What, How, and Why
You may be intimately familiar with mucus and phlegm — suffering from the constant clogging, dripping, or nose blowing, coughing, hacking, and spitting — but what are these unsavory parts of our bodily systems?
Turns out, these are actually pretty important parts of our bodies!
Mucus is “made by cells in membranes that run from your nose to your lungs.” A majority of the mucus produced is actually swallowed and processed in the body. The remainder “keeps your airways moist so that they work properly,” as well as “lines many of your tissues … [and] .. helps protect and moisturize, and it also traps potential irritants.”
Mucus is not simply just mucus, but a “delicate balance of both mucus and watery secretions.” When these two substances are working cohesively, then everything is groovy. Yet, when they don’t it can lead to thickening or thinning of your mucus which causes “postnasal drip and congestion.”
Phlegm, on the other hand, is a “form of mucus produced by the lower airways — not by the nose and sinuses — in response to inflammation.” Phlegm is generally only seen if you have a cough and can be a symptom of “bronchitis or pneumonia,” most often seen when you cough.
While phlegm may not have a vital role in the body, it’s a great indicator of your health and therefore an important part of illness.
Winter Mucus Overproduction
Alright, now we know how to tell our mucus from our phlegm. Plus, we know what mucus is and what it does for our bodies.
Why is our body overproducing it?
First off, let’s get that terminology down. There’s regular mucus production, which doesn’t cause any discomfort or hinder your daily life, then their mucus overproduction or, as some doctors refer to it as, “mucus overdrive,” a rather fitting name, as most of us can attest to.
There’s no real mystery behind that thick or runny mucus. In fact, there are a few sure-fire reasons that your all clogged up. Mucus overproduction is caused by “respiratory infections, the common cold, sinus infections, allergies, smoking, and even your environment.”
Simply put, unless you can quit smoking, are down with over-the-counter allergy meds, or live in a bubble, at one point or another you’ll probably experience “mucus overdrive.”
Natural Treatment for Mucus Overload
When it comes to relieving mucus overload, it’s super easy to get caught up in over-the-counter nasal sprays and medications. Along with being packed with chemicals, these treatments also come with their own side effects. Plus, you’ll be using them all winter long! Instead of going the OTC route, how about trying some sure-fire natural remedies? Here are a few to get you going!
1. Increase Humidity
The best place to start to help reduce mucus overproduction is with your environment. While you may not be able to change what’s happening outside your home, you can definitely work to boost the moisture inside your home. Why do you want to boost that humidity? Turns out “dry air irritates the nose and throat, causing more mucus to form as a lubricant.”
Get yourself one or two humidifiers to place around the house, especially in the bedroom to help mucus control as you sleep. Here are a few amazon bestsellers to get you started: Pure Guardian H910BL Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier for $22.49, Vicks Ultrasonic Humidifier Cool Mist Humidifier for $42.84, or this Holmes Cool Mist Comfort Humidifier for $41.63.
2. Saline Nasal Rinse
If you suffer from dry nasal passages or mucus overproduction, then a saline nasal rinse is your best friend! Saline nasal rinses “can clear out mucus and allergens from the nose and sinuses” without the use of harsh chemicals. Saline nasal rinses come in a wide variety of designs and prices — from traditional neti pots to plastic squeeze bottles. How do they work? Simply boil water to sterilize, allow it to cool, mix in your saline solution, load up your neti pot or squeeze bottle, and then flush out your nasal passages.
Neti pots and nasal rinses are super easy to find online such as this Himalayan Chandra Porcelain Neti Pot for $11.54, this HealthGoodsIn Porcelain Ceramic Neti Pot for $10.95, or this NeilMed Sinus Rinse All Natural Relief for $12.74.
If you really want to go all-natural with your mucus treatment, try incorporating some eucalyptus. Eucalyptus oil is widely used as a natural treatment for a variety of ailments including relieving respiratory issues, fighting headaches, subduing coughs, and reducing mucus, as well as boosting mental capacity. Mix your eucalyptus oil with a carrier and apply “directly to the chest” or add a “few drops of eucalyptus oil” to a “diffuser or a warm bath to help clear” your nasal passages.
Look for an organic eucalyptus oil such as this 4-ounce bottle of Eve Hansen USDA Certified Organic Eucalyptus Essential Oil for $24.99, this 10-milliliter bottle of 100% Pure Plant Therapy Eucalyptus Globulus Organic Essential Oils for $8.95, or this 1-ounce bottle of NOW Essential Oils Organic Eucalyptus Globulus Oil for $9.08.
4. Eating Fruit
Instead of just focusing outwards, start incorporating an inward look at dealing with mucus overproduction. That’s right, we’re talking about diet! While there is a slew of foods that are known to encourage mucus production — especially when paired with sensitivities — there are a handful of foods that are known to decrease mucus production. In fact, a recent study “found that a diet rich in fiber from fruit, and possibly soy, may lead to fewer respiratory problems linked to phlegm.” This may also have to do with the fact that many fruits are high in vitamin C, which helps boost your immune system and void ailments.
5. Stay Hydrated
Have you ever noticed that when you stop hydrating, your mucus becomes rather thick? Like when you wake up in the morning after eight hours of no hydration. Turns out your “body needs to stay hydrated to keep mucus thin,” which means it’s easier to expel and does not cause congestion as easily. Staying hydrated during the winter months is especially important, as the dry air and cold temperatures can cause easy dehydration.
Consider getting yourself a smart water bottle that reminds you to keep hydrated such as this 22-ounce ICEWATER 3-in-1 Smart Water Bottle for $19.99, this 22-ounce HydraCoach 2.0 – Sip & See Smart Water Bottle for $39.99 or this 500-milliliter Foladion Smart Water Bottle.
Food to Fight Mucus
Did you know that there are some foods that actually increase your production of mucus? Yep, that’s right. Food such as red meat, dairy, bread, pasta, and corn products all are considered “mucus-thickening foods.” On the other hand, there is a slew of plant-based foods that are known to help decrease mucus production including pumpkin, pineapple, pickles, onion, lemon, olive oil, and grapefruit.
1. Pina Colada Protein Smoothie
Along with a healthy dose of protein, this smoothie has a half-cup of pineapple chunks and a full ripe banana, both of which are known to help beat down that mucus overproduction. Where does the protein come from? Plant-based superfood chia seeds and plain protein powder (of your choice!).
2. Pumpkin Spice Turmeric Fudge
Just because it’s gotta do with mucus, doesn’t mean it can’t be a delicious treat! This Pumpkin Spice Turmeric Fudge recipe has all the goods including mucus-fighting pumpkin and anti-inflammatory turmeric. Plus, you’ll get a healthy dose of other nutrient-rich food including oats, almond butter, and cinnamon.
3. Arugula and Strawberry Salad with Cayenne Lemon Vinaigrette
Looking for a fresh, simple, mucus-fighting salad to take to work with you? Try this Arugula and Strawberry Salad with Cayenne Lemon Vinaigrette. It’s rich with mucus-fighting agents such as lemon, olive oil, and cayenne. Plus, you’ll get your daily dose of nutrients from arugula, spinach, walnuts, avocado, and vitamin C-rich strawberries.