Getting the gunk out of my lungs
March 14, 2008 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Some questions on sickness and phlegm. Gross details inside...

So last week I had a sore throat/cough. Never developed a fever or headache, although other people I know with the same infection got a nasty fever. The problem is that I have lingering phlegm in my lungs. I have never got this from a sickness before. In fact, I didnt even know what the rumble in my lungs was until someone explained it to me.

So I hear and feel a low rattling sound whenever I breathe. It makes me cough, and when something does get hacked up, I swallow it. Other then this, I feel great... I have no lingering affects from the cold.

Should I be doing something to extra to expel the phlegm from the lungs?

Will this go away on its own or do I need some medication to break up the gunk in the lungs.

Am I at risk of infection if I just wait it out?
posted by ShootTheMoon to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It will probably go away on it's own. If you'd like to speed up the process you can try an expectorant like Mucinex. Of course, IANAD.
posted by gnutron at 10:41 AM on March 14, 2008

Maybe acute bronchitis. IANAD.
posted by tiburon at 10:43 AM on March 14, 2008

Kind of a related question, as I've got a lingering phlegmy cough going on right now too. Is it better to spit out that phlegm or is it ok to just swallow it like ShootTheMoon?
posted by Grither at 10:44 AM on March 14, 2008

It doesn't matter whether you spit or swallow it, as long as you get it out of there. OP, if you aren't feeling any other symptoms, like weakness or dragginess (or shortness of breath), you are probably fine to wait it out. Drink lots of water. IANAD either, of course, but I've had my share of chest colds. Hope you feel better soon.
posted by Beckminster at 10:51 AM on March 14, 2008

You've described pretty much exactly what I have right now, and what my husband is just getting over. This is the second time each of us have had it this winter, and it does go away on its own. Ditto beckminster, it doesn't matter if you swallow the mucus (although, eww), as long as you cough it out of your respiratory system. Try to get plenty of sleep and drink as much water as you can.
posted by boomchicka at 11:16 AM on March 14, 2008

MucinexDM has both an expectorant and a cough suppressant. I'm taking it right now following a nasty bout with bronchitis this week. It loosens the phlegm but keeps you from coughing all the time. But when you do cough, it's generally what medical professionals call "productive" (i.e., keep a lot of tissues handy).
posted by Doohickie at 11:18 AM on March 14, 2008


Mucus: is it better to spit or swallow?.
posted by Rash at 11:44 AM on March 14, 2008

So last week I had a sore throat/cough. Never developed a fever or headache, although other people I know with the same infection got a nasty fever.

Probably not a bacterial infection - those are nasty nasty nasty. You had a virus. Your body uses phlegm to deal with the virus. The virus has also destroyed or affected the cell lining of your throat for example (it happens, but will get better). You may also be experiencing asthma related to the cold.

I get two or three serious colds each winter (my son gives them to me). Phlegm is just part of the package.

Anyway, you'll be better in a week or so. Most cold "medications" are little better than snake oil. A pharmacist told me this. Drink lots of water, and stay out of the cold and the dry - cold and dry affect the lining of your throat, making it easier for viruses to invade.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on March 14, 2008

Sounds like the 'lurgey' that's making its way around Wales now too. It's a good 'un.

When I have a phlegmy cough, I get a bottle of the Chinese cough syrup that has a lovely red box (looks like it could be this.) Always works for me.
I also try to stay away from dairy until all clear.
posted by spandex at 12:23 PM on March 14, 2008

Swallow regular/"cold" phlem. Spit allergy phlem, and take a strong decongestant before bed... lest you swallow 8 hours worth of mucus and wake up with a burp that doesn't quite want to burp and stand around for a few minutes "Ack"-ing like Bill the Cat until you spew out a mouth-full of mucus...

Some mucus is fine to swallow, some will totally mess you up.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:33 PM on March 14, 2008

Here's something I've found helps to clear out my lungs -- or at least it feels like it does. Roll up a towel and place the roll on the floor. Take a cushion off your sofa and put it on the floor, too. Lie on the floor with the rolled towel under your spine and the sofa cushion under your bottom, so your hips are higher than your head. Stretch your arms out to the sides. Just like there for a while. Relax.

The idea -- as a hippie ex-roommate explained it to me -- is that with your spine up on the rolled towel you can open your arms out further than usual, and thus help open up and relax your chest. The elevated hips are help the gunk in your lungs drain towards your head, so you can cough it out more easily.

It could all be bunk. She believed in naturopathy, ferchrissake. But I've done it, and it made me feel better.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:19 PM on March 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

IANAD so I'm not going to tell you what you should be doing or what you're at risk for, but what makes me feel better when I'm phlegmy is singing in the shower, loud and low. It gets me breathing deep and the vibrations loosen up the phlegm. The moist air helps ease the rawness. I find that while singing I can feel when a cough is coming so I can time it to my lungs being full of air, making the cough more effective. There is even a convenient drain for spitting.
posted by subtle_squid at 4:15 PM on March 14, 2008

Mucinex and a LOT of water for a couple of days. And deep inhale exhale breathing.
posted by gjc at 9:08 PM on March 14, 2008

The towel thing helps me, as does guaifenesen (the stuff in Mucinex and some cough syrups). In addition, hot lemon water with honey helps my voice recover and seems to "burn" the slime coat outta my throat. Taken with makes me care considerably less about everything.
posted by answergrape at 9:36 AM on March 15, 2008

I have a similar problem and am unable to post a new question as I am a new member, so hopefully someone will see this.

I've had a problem almost identical to yours; and I have received treatment (see the history below); but with only two days left on a ten day course of antibiotics, I am still coughing up some (a reduced amount, mind you) of the yellow phlegm.

Overall I feel MUCH better, but that yellow stuff still being there worries me.

Is it just that my lungs still need time to heal or do I need to get the antibiotic extended?

I don't want to pester my doctor as I have already had a hard time of this and I don't want him to write me off as a hypochondriac or something, so some advice on whether to pursue that or whether it will clear on its own at this point would be welcome.

Thanks so much.

One important note is that because my old primary care doctor was off my insurance and my new one said he couldn't see me for 3 weeks, I was treated at a walk-in clinic and the first treatment (Omnicef) didn't work (I got worse in fact, developing conjunctivitis and a worse cough.)

Since they didn't really seem to want to follow up with me, I went to another clinic and that doctor gave me Medrol and Z-pak. That started to make me feel better, but when it was done, I began to worsen again.

This time I called and found a primary care doctor that would see me right away. As luck would have it I found one. He ended up giving me another Medrol pak because my coughing had caused some mild wheezing, and he gave me Augmentin ER and that is what I am finishing up now.
posted by jhbgirl at 7:03 AM on April 13, 2008


As it happens, someone suggested to me today that my health insurance might have an "Ask a Nurse" line. They did, so I called. The recommendation was that I contact my doctor's office tomorrow, so I will do that now with less anxiety that I sound nuts.

Sorry to be alarmist, and I hope that the original poster is quite well by now.
posted by jhbgirl at 9:35 PM on April 13, 2008

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