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Can Phlegm Cause Breathing Problems & What To Do For It?

Phlegm is present in the respiratory tract, it gets noticed only when it becomes excessive. The volume, color and consistency of phlegm changes and depends on multiple factors. When excessive mucus causes nasal congestion, it becomes very annoying and dangerous as well. Many people often ask if phlegm can cause breathing problems and what to do for it? Here are the answers to it.

Can Phlegm Cause Breathing Problems?

Can Phlegm Cause Breathing Problems?

While phlegm is secreted in excess in certain situations, it may be a matter of constant concern for some. Hence, people often wonder if phlegm can cause breathing problems. Well, phlegm can cause breathing problems, particularly when it is associated with some of the important respiratory and health problems.

Some of the common conditions when phlegm can cause breathing problems include

Cold and Flu

Excessive mucus develops in the air passage because of viral infections. It generally takes a few days for these acute conditions to resolve fully. Although, it generally does not require any treatment, taking supportive measures can make one feel better. Cold and flu during viral infections is one of the commonest causes where phlegm can cause breathing problems. One can continue to have excessive mucus production even after the main symptoms resolve.

Acute Bronchitis

Inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes triggers acute bronchitis. This condition generally develops when one is already experiencing an acute viral condition like the flu. These tubes help the air to flow into and outside the lungs, but inflammation causes the tubes to narrow down and thus making it difficult breathe properly. This is another example of how phlegm can cause breathing problems. Along with inflammation, mucus accumulation is another reason behind the breathing problems experienced in acute bronchitis.


Asthma is a chronic airway condition which causes excessive mucus in throat. Chest tightness, wheezing, difficulty in breathing and coughing are some other common symptoms of asthma. The condition worsens when excessive mucus builds up in the airway and narrows down the passage. This is mostly triggered due to allergic response and another condition where phlegm causes breathing problems.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Phlegm can cause breathing problems, more so when mucus in throat is associated with gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). It is a condition which causes stomach acids to move up to the esophagus. It also increases the production of saliva in the body for the purpose of neutralizing the acid. GERD may or may not be accompanied by typical heartburn, but excessive mucus in the mouth is almost always present.


Pneumonia causes inflammation of the lung tissues and leads to infections in the bronchi. Some types of pneumonia are likely to produce more mucus than others. When one has pneumonia, the mucus they produce goes directly in their lungs and settles there to worsen the whole situation. This is another case when phlegm can cause breathing problems and also make the person feel suffocated at times.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Excessive and prolonged smoking does severe damage to the lung tissue and airways, thus increasing the risk of COPD. One may also develop emphysema or chronic bronchitis, both of which are likely to trigger excessive mucus production and cause a persistent productive cough. COPD is another common condition where phlegm can cause breathing problems. These individuals are advised to quit smoking because continued smoking can aggravate the mucus production and make it so severe that it may lead to choking while sleeping.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer destroys the lung and causes excessive mucus production and difficulty in breathing. The mucus expelled can carry blood in it and some people can experience pain while coughing as well. Lung cancer is generally asymptomatic until it reaches an advanced stage.


Apart from respiratory disorders, anxiety attacks are likely to be accompanied by excess mucus production. This happens because anxiety aggravates any mucus-producing physical issue, like GERD, allergies, etc., which the individual may already be suffering from. Allergies worsen as the immune system gets negatively impacted by the stress and a dysfunctional immune system becomes unable to effectively protect the body against any infections. Thus when suffering from anxiety, the individual ends up developing conditions that trigger excessive mucus production, which can also result in breathing problems.

What To Do For Phlegm Causing Breathing Problems?

If you are wondering what to do for phlegm causing breathing problems, here are some important tips:

  • When phlegm or mucus in the throat makes it difficult for the individual to breathe properly, it is important to seek medical advice and get the condition diagnosed correctly. Investigations like blood tests, chest X-ray, sputum test, pulmonary function, etc. may be advised and appropriate treatment can be initiated.
  • As phlegm can cause breathing problems, one can take the following steps to eliminate thick mucus from their system.
  • Gargling with saline water thrice a day for at least 15 days can help to eliminate the phlegm significantly.
  • Drinking lots of water and keeping the body well hydrated also helps in thinning out the mucus and making it easier for the system to expel it out.
  • Opening up the sinuses and nostrils by inhaling steam before going to bed and after waking up in the morning can help relieve phlegm issue. Depending on the severity of the congestion, this process can be repeated multiple times in a day.
  • Blowing off the nose gently after waking up in the morning also helps to ease the problem.

By making small dietary changes like avoiding foods that can cause allergy, dairy products, fried stuff and refined foods, one can inhibit the mucus formation considerably. It is quite possible that phlegm can cause breathing problems. Situations like persistent coughing, troubled breathing and mucus in the throat are quite uncomfortable and annoying. By practicing the above mentioned steps one can deal with the phlegm and breathing troubles effectively.


  1. American Lung Association. “COPD.” https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/
  2. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).” https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/related-conditions/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease
  3. Mayo Clinic. “Pneumonia.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pneumonia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354204
  4. American Cancer Society. “Lung Cancer.” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer.html
  5. Medical News Today. “What can cause mucus in the chest?” https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321960
  6. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Bronchitis.” https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/bronchitis

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 1, 2023

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