What Are Common Causes of Thick Mucus?

C. Stoliecki
C. Stoliecki
Thick mucus often indicates the presence of an infection in the body.
Thick mucus often indicates the presence of an infection in the body.

Mucus in the human body serves many vital functions. Most importantly, mucus protects the body from harmful substances by acting as a barrier and by facilitating the removal of such substances. The presence of thick mucus is often an indication that the body is fighting infection, trying to rid the body of harmful substances or responding to the ingestion of certain foods.

Dairy products can also increase the thickness of a person's mucus.
Dairy products can also increase the thickness of a person's mucus.

For animals in the vertebrate phylum, mucus is produced by mucous membranes that are located in various places within the body of the animal. In humans, mucous membranes are located on cavities of the body that come into contact with the outside world. These include the nostrils, mouth, ears and genitals.

Mucus is made of water, carbohydrates, proteins, cells and salt, and it serves many important functions for the human body. Mucus protects organs by acting as a barrier that prevents any foreign matter from making its way into the body. For example, mucus in the nasal cavity traps allergens and dust particles before they can make their way into the lungs. This helps prevent humans from inflammation or infection that can be caused by common irritants such as smoke, mold and many bacteria and viruses.

When the nose is infected with the common cold virus, the nasal and sinus membranes increase the production of mucus.
When the nose is infected with the common cold virus, the nasal and sinus membranes increase the production of mucus.

In carrying out its protective function, mucus also removes harmful particles. Thus, when the mucous membranes come into contact with an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus, they begin to increase mucus production to increase the efficiency of removal. This results in the production of thick mucus. For instance, when the nose is infected with the common cold virus, the nasal and sinus membranes increase the production of mucus in order to remove the virus from the body, thus resulting in the thick nasal mucus commonly experienced during a cold.

Taking guaifenesin, which is a cough expectorant, can be used to increase cervical mucus and improve the chances of conception.
Taking guaifenesin, which is a cough expectorant, can be used to increase cervical mucus and improve the chances of conception.

The same phenomena takes place when the body comes into contact with an allergen. For many people who suffer from allergies, the presence of the trigger allergen on their mucus membranes causes an increase in the production of mucus, resulting in thick mucus meant to eradicate the pollutant from the body. Increased mucus production can occur in any part of the body that has mucous membranes and comes into contact with an allergen.

In some people, thick mucus can be the result of a food sensitivity or allergy. This is often the case with dairy products. Many times, the fat in dairy products increases the viscosity of mucus, and some people notice an increased amount of thick mucus in their nasal passages and lungs shortly after consuming these foods.

What Causes Thick Mucus?

The human immune system protects the body from potentially harmful substances in its environment. The skin, or epidermis, is the largest organ of immunity and serves as a physical barrier between the internal organs and the outside world. The delicate skin that covers the body's orifices is especially vulnerable as it comes into contact with its surroundings. The surface of these openings is covered with a layer of highly specialized epidermal cells that produce a substance called mucus, which acts to protect the inside of the body from outside invasion.

Typically, mucus is a slippery liquid, but occasionally it becomes thicker in response to some form of aggravator to the body. The effect is similar to an oyster reacting to the introduction of an irritant inside its shell.

Allergens

When the body comes into contact with an allergen, the resulting histamine release causes an increase in mucus production. The purpose of the mucus is to coat and protect the body's vulnerable membranes, especially the nasal passages, where allergens most commonly enter. Sneezing, caused by histamine release, also keeps allergens from penetrating beyond the mucous membrane.

Infection

Bacterial and viral pathogens pose a threat to health. To prevent infection, the immune system responds to microscopic invaders by increasing mucus production. The thick barrier of mucus traps harmful infectious organisms and eliminates them.

Mucus also performs the important task of keeping the tissues hydrated. Dry, cracked membranes are more susceptible to infection. While the thicker mucous layer is intended to protect and heal, it can also cause negative symptoms. Inflammation of the nasal passages causes swelling and an increase in mucus production, leading to congestion. When infection occurs in other parts of the respiratory tract, such as the pharynx, phlegm becomes thicker. The body's response is to cough, bringing the substance up and out of the body. If coughing fails to clear the phlegm, the person can develop chest congestion.

Irritants

Foreign objects can be irritating to mucous membranes. Smoke commonly causes the nasal passages and conjunctiva of the eye to become inflamed. Small airborne particles, such as sawdust or pollen, also may irritate sensitive tissues. Chemical fumes can be strong enough to inflame mucus membranes. Production of mucus increases in these situations in an attempt to lay down a protective coating to soothe tissues and prevent damage.

Dehydration

When the body lacks adequate hydration, slippery mucus becomes thicker. The body's fluid reserves are depleted, and mucous membranes dry out. Thinner secretions, like tears, are no longer produced, leaving only the thickest, most viscous forms of mucus.

Extremely arid climates can have the same effect on the body. Spending time in a warm indoor environment in which the central heating system is running may also contribute to a parched feeling. Although the thickened mucus may feel unpleasant, it actually functions to protect the mucous membranes from completely drying out.

Medications

Certain medications may cause a thickening of mucus. Prescription drugs intended to treat depression and anxiety are known to have this effect. Blood pressure pills can raise the viscosity of mucus. Even over-the-counter nasal decongestants, which many people use to combat symptoms of the common cold or flu, have an unpleasant side effect of making mucus more rubbery.

Does Milk Thicken Mucus?

Some people claim dairy products make mucus thicker. The truth is these foods and beverages contain saturated fat, which produces a lingering slick feeling inside the mouth, like a coat of wax. Another possible explanation to support the notion is that those who are allergic to dairy may experience an increase in mucus production in response to these substances. Histamine release increases mucus production even when the allergy is not airborne. Fortunately, dairy-lovers don't have to miss out on their favorite foods and beverages altogether. Here are some suggestions for avoiding the unpleasant thick mucus sensation associated with dairy:

  • Choose dairy products that are lower in fat content.
  • Drink plenty of water along with dairy foods or beverages.
  • Explore the possibility of a dairy allergy.

Do Antihistamines Make Mucus Thicker?

Allergy sufferers know exposure to allergens causes symptoms that interfere with daily life, so they reach for a treatment to soothe their overreactive immune systems. Antihistamines are intended to counteract the body's immune response. They do this by slowing the production of mucus and alleviating the inflammation that leads to tearing eyes and sneezing. With antihistamine use, the watery post-nasal drip type of secretions tend to dry up, leaving only the thicker mucus to do the job.

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Discussion Comments

anon992119

Vaginal itching: What helps me is douching with two cups warm water and 1-2 oz. of white vinegar added. White vinegar kills the yeast infection temporarily--for approximately one month.

UTI or urge incontinence due to yeast infection or E-Coli: E-Coli travels from the rectum up the urethrae; so in order to block the urethrae, I have learned to use an antibiotic salve such as Triple Antibiotic, after urinating, to keep E-Coli from entering the urinary tract and reaching the bladder until the symptoms clear up. And I'm sure the antibiotic also helps clear the yeast infection or E-Coli.

Thank you, Wise Geek, for helping us get well/stay well.

anon346602

I stopped eating anything with yeast and had yeast withdrawal for weeks. Salty, foamy, phlegm started coming out. It took a few weeks to detox. I have never gotten sick again after that. Everything has yeast in it: ramen noodles, white crackers. mac and cheese, most bread, even my favorite fish sticks. I had to learn how to make bread without it.

anon311059

My nose is always closed and I can't breathe from it, and when I push trying to open it, yellow mucus comes out of it. I've contacted my doctor and did surgery on me as I have sinus problem. I got relief for about six months, then the same issue came back.

My doc told me to use a diprofose injection three times per year as each injection gives me a period of four to six months of relief.

So what can I do now? What is the solution? Am I going to spend all my life taking diprofose?

anon299631

Try a good quality Tea Tree oil on your chest, sinus (brow, cheek, nose and throat)three times a day for four or five days (not to be used internally). It will make a huge difference. Drink Breathe Easy Tea and take Echinacea tea or pills.

kylee07drg

Yeast infections can cause a thick mucus discharge. Every time I've ever had one, I have noticed a white, lumpy mucus in my underwear.

Of course, the first sign that I have a yeast infection is the unbearable itching. When I scratch the area, this leads to burning.

I can feel the mucus up inside of me, and it is disturbing. When it is moving out of my body, I feel like I am giving birth to something wet and tiny.

The mucus is both inside and out, and the itching seems to extend up its path. It is so frustrating, because I want to be able to remove all of it, but it is constantly being produced.

cloudel

The clear, thick mucus that comes with a cold is the worst! I had a cold last winter that kept me at home for days because of the excessive mucus production.

It kept dripping out of my nose. I had to plug my nostrils with tissue, and even then, I had to change out the tissue every fifteen minutes, because it had become saturated!

I blew the mucus out of my nose for as long as I could, but it eventually got to the point where my sinuses had swollen so much that none could pass through. I just had to wait out the sickness.

seag47

@Perdido – Allergies make me have thick mucus in my throat, but it is clear rather than yellow. This is how I know it is caused by allergies rather than an infection.

I have post-nasal drip, so my throat is constantly in contact with mucus dripping down from my nose. During the day, it doesn't bother me so much, but at night, it can nearly choke me when I'm lying down.

Every morning when I get up, I cough up mucus for about an hour. It seeped down into my chest during the night, and my body is trying to get rid of it.

I've tried various antihistamines, but their power is limited. I'm sure that my condition would be worse if I took nothing for it, though.

Perdido

I suffer from allergies, and because my sinuses stay irritated for so long, I often get sinus infections. When this happens, I get a thick yellow mucus.

I have to keep blowing my nose to get the stuff out. It is bright yellow, and there is much more of it than is normally present.

If the infection travels to my chest, then I will start coughing up this thick mucus. It is also bright yellow, and the coughing is so persistent that it eventually becomes constant and uncontrollable.

When this occurs, my only option is to go to my doctor and get antibiotics. Sinus infections are very hard for our bodies to defeat on their own.

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    • Thick mucus often indicates the presence of an infection in the body.
      By: doble.d
      Thick mucus often indicates the presence of an infection in the body.
    • Dairy products can also increase the thickness of a person's mucus.
      By: lidante
      Dairy products can also increase the thickness of a person's mucus.
    • When the nose is infected with the common cold virus, the nasal and sinus membranes increase the production of mucus.
      By: Ilike
      When the nose is infected with the common cold virus, the nasal and sinus membranes increase the production of mucus.
    • Taking guaifenesin, which is a cough expectorant, can be used to increase cervical mucus and improve the chances of conception.
      By: ognianmed
      Taking guaifenesin, which is a cough expectorant, can be used to increase cervical mucus and improve the chances of conception.