What causes excess mucus?
Mucous membranes are an internal layer of skin that lines all hollow organs and passages in the body. When they become irritated by foreign or allergenic substances, they produce excessive amounts of mucus in an attempt to trap these substances and help rid the body of them. This usually results in a runny nose or sneezing. Excess mucus is, unfortunately, also an excellent breeding ground for organisms that can lead to infections, which is often the reason why a simple allergy to something such as grass or pet hair can lead to more serious infections if left untreated.
A virus or bacteria
Nasal congestion with a build-up of mucus is often caused by a virus such as the rhinovirus (common cold), the more serious adenovirus, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) or the flu virus, explains paediatrician Dr Iqbal Karbanee. If the infection is viral, antibiotics won’t do much to help. In this case, “Saline drops or sprays for the nose are your best bet for helping to ease congestion and should be used often, especially before feeds and before your baby goes to bed,” he says.
What are the different types of mucus? Sister Lilian explains…
Clear, watery mucus
This is often related to acute and short-lived bouts of an allergy and is mostly accompanied by a lot of sneezing. This type of mucus in the body responds well to tissue salts and homoeopathic remedies, says Sister Lilian. Your child’s nose might become red and painful from all the wiping and from the mucus itself, which is why it’s important to use a barrier cream around the nose and above the lip.
Thick, white or grey mucus
This could be due to sinus congestion, which often runs in families. This type of thick, excess mucus tends to clog all the upper airways and could lead to bouts of croup or bronchitis, especially in younger babies and toddlers who run around a lot.
Yellow, sticky or slimy mucus
This is generally accompanied by skin rashes and eczema. In this instance, it might be worth seeing your paediatrician who can refer you to a dermatologist.
Green, lumpy mucus
This is often considered to be an infection, but if it’s not accompanied by a raised temperature, this may not be the case. This mucus, however, is usually due to a persistent and recurrent build-up of mucus in the body or is caused by regular irritation of the mucus membranes.
Natural remedies for excessive mucus in the body
- The homeopathic nasal spray Nasenol is excellent for relieving nasal congestion that’s caused by any type of mucus.
- Allium cepa is another natural remedy that can be used to treat clear, watery mucus that’s accompanied by red, streaming eyes.
- The homeopathic remedy Pulsatilla is good for yellow-green discharge that typically causes a blocked nose.
Most of these products are available from health stores.
Relief for newborns
After birth, newborns often have mucus or sneeze often to clear amniotic fluid and accumulated mucus from the airways, says Sister Lillian. Colostrum, the first breastmilk, actually helps to break down this mucus and get rid of it – specifically to prevent infections. If your little one is sneezing a lot, simply add a drop of saline in each of his nostrils or apply the homoeopathic remedy Nasenol, which will also help to clear it quickly.
How to treat coughs caused by mucus
Coughing may be a sign of chronic excess mucus, which can lead to more than upper airway congestion and infections, although irritation in the throat may be the simplest explanation, explains Sister Lilian. A wheezy or tight-chested cough, however, must be taken seriously, as this could be linked to asthma, she adds.
Try Croupbron drops (a natural remedy available from Natura) to help alleviate the symptoms, but remember that asthma needs professional care.
For loose, phlegmy coughs
There’s an extensive range of homeopathic remedies and tissue salts to treat this type of cough. However, if your little one doesn’t improve within 24 hours, or the cough develops into something more serious, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Of course, factors such as smoke are a concern and if anyone close to your child does smoke, this could be the trigger for his or her cough. Smoking outside the house helps, although it’s still not the ideal cure, as the nicotine is in your system and gets breathed onto your child anyway. Quitting smoking is the only option if you want to reduce the risk to your child.
How to treat coughs at home
According to their latest report on over-the-counter cough medicines, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that although some of these medicines do provide instant relief to your child’s cough, they’re not ideal as they haven’t been proven safe and effective for young children and can have a host of adverse side effects, especially if they’re given with other medicines, such as those used for pain relief.
The good news is, these natural remedies for coughs work well and are safe for your little one:
- Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to the hot water when you run your little one’s bath (this builds up soothing vapours that help disinfect and open the airways).
- Steam-treat your child with Friar’s Balsam (available at Clicks). Add a capful to a basin of boiling water, drape a towel over your child’s head and encourage him to breathe in these vapours – take care to avoid burning.
- Run a warm air humidifier overnight in your child’s room. If your child has a dry, hacking cough, you can add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to the humidifier, but remember it’s essential to have good ventilation and to clean and dry the humidifier thoroughly each morning. (The warm, moist air in the humidifier can cause mould to grow, which is a breeding ground for bacteria).
- Apply Vicks to your baby’s chest and throat, or on his vest if his skin tends to become irritated. However, if your baby is under the age of two, only use the Vicks BabyRub as some of the ingredients in Vicks VapoRub can cause even more irritation to your baby’s airways.
More about the expert:
Sister Lilian has been a leading South African pregnancy and parenting advisor for many years, is a best-selling author and has often appeared on radio and TV, and in parenting magazines, as South Africa’s go-to parenting expert. Learn more about Sister Lilian here.
Our experienced editors work with trained journalists and qualified experts to compile accurate, insightful and helpful information about pregnancy, birth, early childhood development and parenting. Our content is reviewed regularly by our panel of advisors, which include medical doctors and healthcare professionals. Meet the Living & Loving Team and our Online Experts.