5 natural mucus remedies to help you breathe clearly this season
In most parts of the country, allergy season is in full swing. If you don’t have allergies, there’s always the risk of a troublesome spring or summer cold. But, no matter which affliction your respiratory system ends up doing battle with, you’re going to have to deal with mucus.
Mucus definitely has the “yuck” factor, but it’s way more beneficial than most people realize. Mucus actually plays an important role in keeping us healthy by serving as our first line of defense against pathogens.
Mucus-producing tissues line the nose, mouth, throat, sinuses, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. Mucus serves as a protective barrier over these surfaces. It prevents the tissues underneath from drying out, and it traps unwanted invaders like viruses, bacteria, dust, allergens, etc., so that they can’t get into your body.
Normally, we aren’t bothered by our body’s normal production of mucus. In fact, we barely even notice it…that is, until one wayward virus, bacterium, or other pathogen makes it past the mucus membrane and we end up sick.
When illness strikes—or when allergies or conditions such as acid reflux flare up—mucus becomes much more noticeable. Not only can these health issues throw the body’s mucus production into overdrive; they can cause a change in its consistency, making it thicker, stickier, sometimes runnier, and all-around annoying.
In most cases, the overproduction of mucus isn’t problematic and it’s best to let the body fight the bug or allergy off on its own. But if too much mucus is making life especially difficult, there are several drug-free, natural things you can try at home to thin out, loosen up, and “unload” the mucus.
Moist, humid air can help release mucus and clear up congestion. There are several ways to increase humidity. Probably the easiest is to use a cool mist humidifier, which you can leave on safely all day long. (To avoid mold and mildew buildup, follow instructions for proper cleaning.)
You can also turn your bathroom into a steamy sauna by running the hot water in the shower for a while, then stepping into the room. If you prefer not to waste water though, you can get the same effect by filling a large bowl with very hot water, leaning over the bowl, covering your head and the bowl with a towel to trap the steam, and breathing deeply through your nose.
Gargling warm salt water can help clear out any mucus that’s in the back of your throat. Simply dissolve ½ teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm filtered/distilled water. Take a sip, tilt your head back, gargle for 10–20 seconds (or as long as you can), then spit it out. Repeat as necessary.
Nasal irrigation using a saltwater rinse is an excellent way to remove mucus and any particles from your sinuses.
To make the rinse, mix eight ounces of warm distilled water (never use tap water!) with ¼ teaspoon of salt. Fill a bulb syringe or neti pot with the saltwater solution. Lean over the sink, tilt your head to one side, and gently insert the tip of the pot or syringe into your upper nostril.
Squeeze or pour the solution into your upper nostril and allow it to drain out of your lower nostril. Repeat on the other side, then blow your nose to fully clear your sinuses.
Don’t forget to clean your syringe or neti pot after use.
Certain essential oils can help to thin mucus so it can be more easily eliminated. Peppermint and eucalyptus are the most effective for this purpose.
You can use essential oils a few different ways. You can diffuse it into the air using an inexpensive diffuser.
You can add a couple drops into a hot bath, or apply it topically by mixing a drop or two with about 10–12 drops of a carrier oil like jojoba or coconut oil. If using a particular essential oil for the first time, apply the mixture to the inside of your forearm to make sure you don’t have a reaction from it. If you can tolerate it with no issue, apply it to your chest and breathe it in deeply to achieve the full therapeutic effect.
Of course, the old drugstore standby, Vicks VapoRub, contains eucalyptus. So, if you don’t have or use essential oils, head over to your nearest pharmacy and pick up this inexpensive, century-old remedy. Use as directed.
Believe it or not, certain foods have the power to thin and dry out excess mucus.
Ginger has been used for centuries as a natural decongestant, antiviral, and antibacterial. To use it for this purpose, steep a tablespoon of freshly cut ginger slices in hot water, and drink several times a day. Or you can simply chew on raw ginger throughout the day.
Cayenne pepper is another option that helps, thanks to its active ingredient called capsaicin—the compound that gives peppers their heat. You can mix a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper in fresh ginger tea (above) to multiply the mucus-loosening effect.
Garlic is also a natural expectorant that has anti-microbial properties to fight off viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that enter the respiratory tract and cause excess mucus in the first place.
Finally, honey has wonderful soothing properties and has actually been found in some studies to ease cough more effectively than over-the-counter expectorants. Use it in tea, or swallow a spoonful as needed throughout the day. (Note: Babies should not be given honey.)
BONUS: 5 Nutrients to Support Respiratory Health
The following natural alternatives work well and have few, if any, harmful side effects.
- Quail egg powder should be your #1 go-to for allergies. This unique substance has been demonstrated in several studies to relieve several allergy symptoms, including stuffy/runny/itchy nose, watery/itchy eyes, and asthma. In one clinical trial, 43 people were exposed to common indoor and outdoor allergens, including grass and tree pollen, dust mites and animal dander. They then immediately took two tablets of either a proprietary quail egg extract or placebo. Those who took the quail egg experienced significant relief from nasal symptoms and itchy/watery eyes within just 15 minutes.1 Safe for both adults and children, this impressive allergy fighter is the main ingredient in Newport Natural Health’s Breathe EZ product.
- Butterbur is an herb that stacks up against one of the top-selling antihistamines on the market. In a study that compared butterbur to the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec), both treatments were similarly effective, but butterbur didn’t produce the drowsiness and fatigue felt by two-thirds of those taking Zyrtec. In another study, 90 percent of butterbur users saw significant improvement in their symptoms and rated the herb’s efficacy and tolerability at 80 percent and 92 percent, respectively.2-3 Typical dosing is 50 mg twice daily.
- Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that works by preventing mast cells from releasing histamine, and decreasing production of inflammatory leukotrienes.4 Typical dosing is 400 mg twice daily on an empty stomach, taken with a digestive enzyme like bromelain to help with absorption.
- Stinging nettles is a medicinal herb that comes in many forms (tea, extract, tincture, etc.). It inhibits histamine receptors and prostaglandin formation. In one study, allergy sufferers rated a freeze-dried preparation of stinging nettles much higher than placebo in reducing symptoms.5-6
- Up to 80 percent of our immunity originates in our gut, so it makes sense that taking a probiotic supplement can help prevent and treat allergies. A great high-quality probiotic product to try is Newport Natural Health’s Microencapsulated Probiotic. Not only does it include several different strains of beneficial bacteria, it contains prebiotics, which feed the bacteria.
Occasionally, excess mucus production may indicate a more serious problem, especially if it is severe, persistent, comes with fever or muscle aches, and doesn’t improve with self-care. In that case, see your doctor. Otherwise, these home remedies plus the 5 bonus nutrients—and a little bit of patience—should help.
Give them a try!
- Benichou AC, et al. A proprietary blend of quail egg for the attenuation of nasal provocation with a standardized allergenic challenge: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Food Sci Nutr. 2014 Nov;2(6):655-63. Last accessed February 18, 2020.
- Schapowal A. Randomised controlled trial of butterbur and cetirizine for treating seasonal allergic rhinitis. BMJ 2002 Jan 19;324(7330):144-6. Last accessed February 5, 2020.
- Kaufeler R, et al. Efficacy and safety of butterbur herbal extract Ze 339 in seasonal allergic rhinitis: postmarketing surveillance study. Adv Ther 2006 Mar-Apr;23(2):373-84. Last accessed February 5, 2020.
- Micek J, et al. Quercetin and its anti-allergic immune response. Molecules 2016 May 12;21(5). Last accessed February 5, 2020.
- Roscheck B Jr, et al. Nettle extract affects key receptors and enzymes associated with allergic rhinitis. Phytother Res 2009 Jul;23(7):920-6. Last accessed February 5, 2020.
- Mittman P. Randomized, double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica dioica in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med 1990 Feb;56(1):44-7. Last accessed February 5, 2020.