Cough with Phlegm in Clear State: Why and What to Do?

Healthy mucus or phlegm is usually clear and thin in texture. It often makes people believe that they do not have any infection if they produce clear snot or clear phlegm. This is not true though because even clear phlegm can be a sign of infection or even a side effect of another illness. You do not need any antibiotics though because these infections are mostly viral in nature. Your immune system can clear these symptoms on its own, but you may want to talk to your doctor if you are coughing with clear mucus and have some other symptoms too.

Coughing Up Clear Mucus: Why and What Can You Do?

Your discomfort may be caused by:

1. Common Cold and Influenza

You may produce clear mucus if you have influenza or are suffering from the common cold. These viral infections will make excess mucus accumulate at the back of your throat. You will notice clear and thin phlegm during the first few days of your illness, but it becomes yellow when your immune system takes charge of things. The phlegm will turn clear again when your immune system is about to eliminate the infection.


You do not have to take antibiotics for viral infections. It is not uncommon for your healthcare provider to prescribe medication to help you manage severe cold or flu symptoms. Be sure to talk to your doctor immediately if you are coughing up clear mucus and have other symptoms such as chills, pain, and a fever.

2. Bronchitis

You develop bronchitis when the lining of your bronchial tubes become inflamed due to a cold or other respiratory infections. You may develop acute or chronic bronchitis. While acute bronchitis is more common, it is easily treatable. Chronic bronchitis can lead to several complications and is usually the result of smoking.

For either acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Cough
  • Production of mucus (sputum), which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray or green in color-rarely, it may be streaked with blood.
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • slight fever and chills
  • Chest discomfort


  • Home Remedies: You can try home remedies to relieve symptoms. For starters, quit smoking. Be sure to cover your nose when you are exposed to irritants. Install a humidifier in your home to add moisture to dry air. Also, make use of food remedies such as garlic, ginger, honey, salt water, onion, etc. to ease symptoms.
  • Medical Treatments: You do not usually need medical treatment for acute bronchitis. If it takes longer than two weeks, your doctor may prescribe medications such as cough suppressants or inhalers with other medications to treat asthma, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

3. Allergy

Both hay fever and allergies can lead to excessive buildup of clear mucus. You usually notice it run through your nasal passages, but later it turns into post-nasal drip and starts dripping down the back of your throat. This mucus buildup is due to irritated lining of the sinus passage. Exposure to airborne allergens can cause this condition.

Here are the steps you should take if you are coughing up clear mucus due to allergies:

Allergen Avoidance

Avoid allergy triggers and exposure to allergens. Stay at home when pollen count is high in the outside air and wear a mask when going out.

Medications to Reduce Symptoms


Take medications to reduce immune response to allergens. You can take OTC or prescription allergy medication to deal with your allergies. Allergy medicines are available in the form of nasal sprays, oral medications, and eye drops.



Try allergen immunotherapy if your condition does not improve after taking allergy medication. You will receive injections of purified allergen extracts to make your immune system used to it. You usually have to receive these injections over a period of a few years.

Emergency Epinephrine


Your doctor may recommend an emergency epinephrine shot to treat a severe allergy. An epinephrine shot (Auvi-Q, EpiPen, others) can help reduce symptoms of a severe allergy attack.

4. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

You may start coughing up clear mucus if you develop this chronic digestive disease. In this condition, stomach acids start flowing back up into your esophagus or food pipe and irritate the lining of your esophagus. If you have GERD, you may also have other symptoms, such as burning sensation in your chest, difficulty swallowing, chest pain, hoarseness, dry cough, sensation of a lump in your throat, and regurgitation of sour liquid or food.


  • Home Remedies: Take steps to avoid heartburn triggers, such as peppermint, onions, caffeinated beverages, chocolate, tomatoes, citrus juices, and spicy foods. You should also avoid overeating and never go to your bed with a full stomach. Be sure to eat slowly, quit smoking, say no to alcohol, and wear loose-fitting clothes to ease symptoms of GERD.
  • Medical Treatments: You can try some OTC treatments to control heartburn. The list includes antacids to neutralize stomach acid, prescription-strength proton pump inhibitors, and prescription-strength H-2 receptor blockers, and medications to reduce acid production. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to heal the esophagus.

When Should You Go to See Your Doctor?

Whether you have bronchitis, allergy and GERD, you can find relief simply by taking over-the-counter medications. Sometimes, you may notice severe symptoms along with coughing up clear mucus. This is when you should consult your doctor to find a more appropriate treatment option.

  • If you have bronchitis, you should call your doctor immediately when your symptoms lasts more than three weeks, it is also vital to seek medical help if you have fever higher than 38C, shortness of breath or you have produced blood.
  • If you have severe allergy, and if avoiding exposure to allergensand taking OTC medications do not work, call your doctor immediately. You may want to carry an epinephrine auto-injector with you all the time and take it when you develop a severe allergic reaction.
  • If you have GERD and experience severe chest pain, you should see your doctor immediately. It is even more important to seek immediate medical attention if you also have arm or jaw pain with shortness of breath. These symptoms may indicate a heart attack. 
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