Mucus is an essential body fluid, but it doesn't get much attention until it becomes excessive, thick and annoying. There are ways to naturally thin mucus, and if these don't work, an over-the-counter medication may help. If you have ongoing problems with thick or excessive mucus, see your doctor.
Without mucus, the body could not survive. This slippery, watery substance lines and moisturizes most body tissues. Mucus also traps airborne irritants, bacteria and debris, allowing these substances to be expelled by coughing, sneezing or by simply swallowing them. Mucus can become thick if you are dehydrated or exposed to dry air or abnormal amounts of pollutants. Allergies, respiratory infections, such as the common cold or the flu, and certain lung diseases can also lead to thick or excess mucus production.
If you have abnormally thick mucus, the easiest way to remedy this is to drink plenty of liquids. Water is the best option, although most liquids are hydrating to the body. Try to drink enough to keep your urine pale. Warm liquids, such as broth, tea or hot water with lemon or honey may be of particular value since their steam can help loosen mucus and make it easier to expel.
If the mucous membranes of the nasal passages, throat and lungs are constantly exposed to dry air, the mucus that lines these organs can become thick. Reverse this by adding moisture to the air. Take a steamy shower or bath, or sit in a hot tub or sauna. Use a salt-water nasal spray to moisten nasal passages. and consider using a humidifier in your bedroom. Also minimize exposure to polluted or smoky air, since this can make your symptoms worse.
Herbs and Essential Oils
Certain herbal therapies and essential oils are commonly used to manage respiratory symptoms, although there's limited quality research that proves they help to thin mucus. Drinking herbal teas, however, can help thin mucus because steamy liquids are known to hydrate the body. In addition, components in some herbs -- such as menthol in peppermint -- have expectorant properties, which thin mucus.
Essential oils are commonly used to provide cold and allergy symptoms relief. However, these potent plant extracts should not be consumed or applied to the skin without the use of a carrier oil, so be sure to understand how to correctly and safely use these products. If you want to try essential oils to help counter your thick mucus, disperse into the air by using a diffuser, or by adding some drops to boiling water or in your shower to create scented steam.
If natural therapies aren't enough to manage your symptoms, consider an over-the-counter expectorant. Products containing guaifenesin, for instance, help thin and loosen the excess mucus in your airways. While thick mucus can often be managed by increasing humidity and hydration, see your doctor if you also have a fever, chills, weight loss, nose bleeds or difficulty breathing. Also see your doctor if your thick, excessive mucus has lasted for 2 weeks or if you have questions on how to manage your symptoms at home.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD