Coughing up white foamy mucus

What Does Coughing Up White Foamy Mucus Mean?

What is Mucus?

Mucus is a thick white liquid secreted by mucus membranes present inside the body. A thin layer of mucus normally covers the epithelial lining of airways.

Where Does it Come from and What Does it Do?

Mucus secreting cells are present along the epithelial lining of airways as well as the intestines. These mucus secreting cells are called Goblet Cells.

Mucus along with cilia (hair-like projections inside airways) is responsible for the protection of airways by trapping microbes, pollens, and other irritants, and preventing them from entering into the lungs. It also moisturizes the inhaled air, thereby preventing dryness of airways.

Mucus production is increased on exposure to allergens, irritants, and microbes. Coughing is another protective mechanism of our respiratory system. Coughing helps to expel out dust and excess mucus.

Therefore, cough and mucus production is an indicator that your body is responding positively to stimuli. A cough and mucus together prevent smoke, dust, irritants, and microbes from reaching the lungs.

White mucus is commonly seen in apparently healthy individuals who catch a cold or when they suffer from hay-fever. In cases of common cold, mucus may be white and runny. This indicates a catarrhal inflammation of the airways. It is usually self-limiting and requires only supportive care.

However, if the mucus is white but thick, it suggests that a person has a certain degree of chest congestion, such as bronchitis. It may also be present in persons who are cigarette smokers or those who frequently come in contact with air pollution or irritants.

Causes of Coughing up Thick White Foamy Mucous

  1. Common Cold: It is a usual thing to occur in cases of viral infections. Watery white mucus discharge from the nose along with sneezing. Some degree of a cough is also present.
  2. Allergies: when your body is exposed to an allergen, for example, oyster or some drug, the body tends to produce an excess of white foamy mucus, in order to get rid of that allergen.
    Common Cold - Cause of Coughing up White Foamy Mucous
  3. Singing/ Talking Loudly: In such cases, where there is overuse of the voice, white mucus is produced in excess to keep airways lubricated.
  4. Sinusitis: Anything that irritates the sinuses (hollow spaces in your face to drain mucus), is going to produce thick, white mucus which forms a protective layer inside the sinuses. In case of sinusitis, thick, white mucus may drop from the inner portion of the nose into the throat (post nasal drip).
  5. Smoking: This remains to be an important cause of a cough and excessive mucus in throat. It is because the body identifies smoke as an irritant and tries to prevent it from traveling down the airway.                                       
    Smoking - Cause of Coughing up White Foamy Mucous
  6. Bronchitis: This is an inflammation of the lining of airways which enter the lungs. In case of a viral infection, the patient will be coughing up thick, white mucus, whereas, in case of a bacterial infection, yellowish-greenish mucus will be coughed up.
  7. Air pollution: Smoke from vehicles and industries are act as irritants for the throat and rest of the airways. This causes increased mucus in throat.
    Air Pollution - Cause of Coughing up White Foamy Mucous
  8. Quite often, especially in children, some foreign object like a small toy or a marble may be present in the airways. In order to protect the respiratory tract from such foreign objects, a layer of thick, white mucus will be formed around it.
  9. Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (Heart burn): In this disorder, there is a constant reflux of acid into the upper part of the food pipe. This often irritates the throat, which in turn creates a protective layer of white, foamy mucus to prevent the refluxed acid from harming the throat.
  10. Pneumonia or Pulmonary Edema: These are some serious medical conditions in which a patient may complaint of coughing up of white, foamy mucus.

Home Remedies for Coughing Up White Foamy Mucus:

  1. Steam inhalation is one of the best home remedies to drain out all the mucus. It helps effectively to give relieve from a blocked nose and sinus or a throat irritation. It also reduces chest congestion to a great degree.
  2. Drinking plenty of water makes it easier for the body to get rid of viruses and toxins.
  3. Salt water gargling helps tremendously in reducing throat infection.
  4. Drinking warm water with lemon and honey is known to clear lymphatic glands, thereby, reducing infection.
  5. Ginger works as a decongestant and anti-allergic. Warm water with ginger or ginger infused tea soothes the throat.
  6. Apple cider vinegar has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Warm water with apple cider vinegar helps in reducing infectivity.
  7. Garlic has anti-bacterial qualities and helps in reducing inflammation and mucus production.
  8. Warm soups and broths help to soothe the throat.

Treatment for Coughing up White Foamy Mucus

  1. Your physician may advice a cough syrup to either help you expectorate or reduce the mucus production.
  2. Nasal sprays may be advised to relief a blocked nose or severely obstructed sinuses.
  3. Bronchitis may cause some degree of breathlessness due to excess mucus production. Your physician may advise you some mucolytic agents or nebulisation which will help you to breathe better.
  4. Antibiotics and in severe cases, antiviral drugs may be required if the infection progresses.
  5. Vitamin C tablets may also be advised.

Avoid taking such as very oily and spicy food, curd and other dairy products. Alcohol and smoking must also be curbed as these increase mucus production.

It is advisable to cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing. Actually, the infection is fairly contagious and can affect other individuals too. Also, make sure to blow your nose as and when required, as this will help you release mucus from your nose and sinuses.

In spite of the various ways, by which one can control coughing up of white foamy mucus at home, it is equally necessary to visit a qualified physician to get better and quicker relief from your symptoms. These home remedies will aid in faster recovery and are not a substitute for proper therapy.

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Kaushal M. Bhavsar (MBBS, MD)Assistant Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad