Many conditions can cause someone to cough up white mucus. Here are a few of them:
URTIs include any infection that affects the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose, pharynx, larynx, sinuses, and large airways. Some examples of these illnesses include the common cold, influenza (flu), and COVID-19.
Viruses and bacteria cause URTIs, resulting in increased mucus production as the body tries to get rid of them. Other symptoms may include:
- a cough
- runny or blocked nose
- low grade fever
Depending on the illness, the symptoms may last a few days or up to 3 weeks.
If someone could have COVID-19, it is vital that they stay at home and follow the advice of their local health authority. The local health authority will have information on getting tested.
For viral URTIs, there is no cure. However, in most people, they are benign and get better on their own. There are over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can help reduce the symptoms while a person recovers, including:
- pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
- combined cold and flu medications, which may contain ingredients to treat multiple symptoms at once
A pharmacist or doctor can advise on the best option for an individual.
For bacterial URTIs, doctors prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics are not appropriate for viral URTIs, but for severe cases, doctors may use antiviral medications to help the body fight the infection.
Getting the flu vaccination every year can also help prevent flu from occurring.
Asthma is a chronic condition of the lungs that causes narrowing and inflammation of the airways. It also causes an increase in mucus production in the air passages, which may decrease airflow while breathing. This especially affects breathing out, according to a 2021 research article.
The symptoms of asthma include:
- shortness of breath
Many things can trigger asthma symptoms, including:
- tobacco smoke
- air pollutants
Treatment for asthma may include a bronchodilator, such as albuterol (Ventolin), an inhaled steroid, such as beclomethasone (Qvar), or a combination.
- quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke
- using a vacuum with a HEPA filter to regularly clean carpets and floors
- preventing mold growth in the home or workplace
- scheduling outdoor activities for days when the air quality is good
Bronchitis is inflammation of the major air passages of the lungs. It causes swelling and mucus production. Some refer to bronchitis as a “chest cold.”
The potential symptoms of bronchitis include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- general feeling of chest discomfort
Common causes include:
- viral infections
Treatment for bronchitis depends on the cause. If it is due to a viral infection, it may get better without treatment. OTC cough medications may help relieve symptoms.
Other options include beta agonists to reduce wheezing or steroids to reduce inflammation if the condition is ongoing.
Home remedies may include:
- hot tea
Lifestyle modifications also play an important role in helping prevent recurrence. These include:
- quitting smoking
- avoiding pollutants and allergens
- getting the flu and pneumonia vaccines to help prevent these infections
COPD is the name for a group of chronic conditions that block airflow and result in breathing problems. Symptoms include:
- excess mucus production
- shortness of breath
- frequent wheezing or coughing
- trouble taking a deep breath
Exposure to tobacco smoke is a major COPD risk factor, note the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There is no cure for COPD. Medical treatment may involve supplemental oxygen and medications. Drug options include:
- Bronchodilators: These are medications that open the airways. They may include beta-2 agonists, which relax muscles surrounding the airways, or anticholinergics, which prevent tightening of muscles surrounding the airways. An example of a beta-2 agonist is formoterol (Foradil), and an example of an anticholinergic is Aclidinium (Tudorza Pressair).
- Steroids: These are anti-inflammatory medications that reduce mucus production and swelling. They come in the form of an inhaler. An example is beclomethasone (Qvar).
- Combination: These are a combination of two or three of the above types of medications. An example is budesonide and formoterol (Symbicort).
- Antibiotics: These are an option if a bacterial infection is present.
The CDC also recommends:
- quitting smoking
- enrolling in pulmonary rehabilitation, a comprehensive program that helps people improve their quality of life
- physical exercises
- getting the flu and pneumonia vaccines