Too Much Mucous

Cartoon doctor with a choir
Get to the root cause of the excess “stuff” blocking your singing - says Dr. Jahn


This is going to sound a bit gross, but I’ve got to deal with it. I have an excess of mucous – so, I’m always clearing my throat. It’s throughout the year so I don’t think it’s from allergies. I also don’t eat much in the way of foods like cheese and milk etc. It’s really bothersome and, as a result, I don’t think I am singing at my best – what can I do? (ps. I don’t like taking strong meds.)


Dear Gary,

Did you know that a whole book was once written about mucus? Titled “De Catarrhis”, it was written by Dr. Schneider in Wittenberg, Germany. The year was 1651; yet, 450 years later, the stuff continues to plague singers.

Mucus is a normal and important lubricant of mucous membranes. It helps to coat and protect (sounds almost like a motto, doesn’t it?) and also is involved in cleaning the surface of the membranes. We, all of us, make and swallow between a pint and a quart of mucus every day. This mucus, a thin and slippery layer, passes through our GI tract silently.

Mucus typically becomes a problem when there is too much, or when it is of the wrong consistency (i.e. too viscous). So, to address your problem: you need to consider how to thin the viscous stuff out, and, if excessive, how to get rid of it. Thinning out mucus requires that you drink lots of water; I recommend eight 8-oz glasses a day. Spread it out over the course of the day, and drink even a bit more if exercising or sweating. Washing it away, in turn, requires irrigating your nose with saline at least twice a day. Showering with plenty of hot steam also helps to loosen the stuff.

You need also consider why you may be forming excessive (or thick) mucus in the first place. Any sort of inflammation, whether an infection or allergies, can cause excess thick mucus. Consider also that even normal mucus will adhere to inflamed surfaces, and then become symptomatic. For this reason, patients with acid reflux irritation of the pharynx and larynx often complain of the need to clear their throat, and we will even see mucus sticking to the vocal folds when excessive singing has traumatized them.

By way of medical treatment, in addition to hydration and saline irrigation, consider treating reflux and allergies, both by reducing your exposure to irritants and spicy foods, and possibly seeing an allergist or gastroenterologist. If you decide to self-treat, one caution: beware of antihistamines that are drying, and can make your mucus more tenacious. A dry larynx is not only difficult to sing with, but is more prone to injury and vocal nodules.

-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)

This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.

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