Phlegm is thick mucous that builds up in the respiratory system. The substance can manifest in different colors, and these colors often signal the type and severity of an associated ailment. White phlegm typically indicates a less severe respiratory or throat infection, but it can still facilitate a number of uncomfortable symptoms.
White phlegm typically manifests during a throat infection. The infection may be viral or bacterial in nature. If left untreated, a throat infection may progress and thus produce more serious symptoms and associated phlegm.
Throat infections may present many symptoms, with whitish phlegm being a chief indicator. The phlegm itself results from thickened mucous, which is a substance the mucous membranes of the respiratory system produce. A lack of pus or blood gives the substance its white appearance. Other symptoms that may coincide with the phlegm include coughing, fever, and a scratchy, sore throat.
Since a throat infection is the most common source of white phlegm, cold and flu viruses are the most frequent culprits for the condition. Various other respiratory system infections and conditions may also create an atmosphere for white phlegm, such as any lung diseases, sinus infections, and even allergies in some cases.
These ailments arise from inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the sinuses, or parts of the immune system. Some cases of flu and influenza can progress into bronchitis or sinus infections. The flu produces a slight fever, hoarseness, throat discomfort, wheezing, and a mucous-facilitating cough, while bronchitis is characterized by headaches and congestion. Smokers or individuals in a highly polluted atmosphere may also develop bronchitis and the associated phlegm problems, and individuals with allergies are vulnerable to sinus infections and thus phlegm. Allergies are typified by sneezing and runny nose.
In addition to respiratory issues, a digestive disorder known as gastroesophageal reflux disease may help create phlegm as well. This condition results when the barrier separating the esophagus from the windpipe and throat malfunctions and allows gastric acid to pass into the throat or windpipe. Heartburn may result, as can phlegm.
Due to its generally less-severe nature, white phlegm can usually be treated at home. Throat soothers such as tea can help curb the development of the phlegm. Gargling with a lukewarm liquid like salt water can aid in loosening up the mucous. If an individual wishes to cough the phlegm out, he or she should lie on the stomach in a steamed room and cough vigorously. Over-the-counter remedies may also help eliminate phlegm.
If phlegm turns brown, red, yellow, or green, it may indicate a more severe infection. A high fever, chills, and coughed-up blood also signal a serious condition. In such cases, an immediate medical visit and prescribed antibiotics may be necessary.