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Dealing with phlegm in the throat can be an inconvenient, embarrassing and painful condition as it is often accompanied by frequent throat clearing and coughing.

Symptoms

Symptoms that usually accompany phlegm in the throat include:

  1. Throat clearing
  2. Cough
  3. Voice change
  4. Heartburn
  5. Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  6. Blocked nose and nasal discharge
  7. Shortness of breath

The underlying medical condition causing these symptoms must be treated first in order for the phlegm to go away.

Causes
  1. Laryngopharyngeal Reflux
    1. This is probably the most common cause for throat phlegm and is associated with cough, voice change and occasionally the sensation of heartburn
  2. Post-Nasal Drip: Allergic Rhinitis & Sinusitis
    1. Associated with increased nasal discharge
    2. Excess mucus in the nose flows backwards and into the throat
  3. Lung Disease
    1. e.g. asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease
    2. Any lung disease associated with inflammation of the air passages will cause more mucus to be produced
    3. The mucus is pushed from the lungs towards the larynx (voice box) and into the hypopharynx (lower throat)
    4. Known as throat phlegm and is often associated with chronic cough
  4. Tumour in the upper aero-digestive tract
    1. This can obstruct the passage of food into the oesophagus (food pipe), causing difficulty swallowing
    2. A build-up of saliva occurs above the tumour, which may be perceived as throat phlegm
Treatment

The treatment will vary depending on the cause. Usually it is targeted at treating the underlying condition producing the excess phlegm.

Your doctor may recommend that you have a flexible nasendoscopy to evaluate the upper aero-digestive tract for signs of inflammation. X-rays and scans of your sinuses and lungs may also be necessary for a more detailed diagnosis.

Know Your ENT Specialist
Dr Paul Mok
Senior Consultant ENT Surgeon
MBBS, FRCS (Glasgow), FAMS (ORL)

Dr Paul Mok Kan Hwei is a certified specialist in Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery (ENT) and has had a distinguished career in public service for the past 23 years.

He cares for patients with a wide variety of ENT conditions including managing patients with nasal allergies, sinus infections, ear problems and swellings in the head and neck region. His special areas of interests are in Voice, Swallowing and managing patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea.