GERD Associated With Thick Phlegm in Throat

Q: I am a 35 year old woman. I have a very sticky and thick mucus in my throat. I can’t swallow it so I spit it often and it is irritating. Now I am experiencing something like heartburn. In the morning my heartburn is gone and comes back few minutes after I wake up. What is the cause of this and how can I cure it? I am so scared, please help.
By: Dinnie

Reply:

From what you have written, it looks like that you have a condition called GERD. This is a common cause of heartburn and may also be causing thick mucus in your throat.

What Is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a condition where the sphincter (gate) between the esophagus (food pipe) and the stomach becomes loose. This leads to back flow of stomach contents into the esophagus. As it is understandable, the back flow is more while lying down, as gravity aids the flow in this position.

Stomach wall produces an acid called hydrochloric acid, which aids in digestion. So, in patients suffering from this condition, acidic contents from the stomach come in contact with the lower esophagus.

The condition immediately gives a burning sensation in the upper belly region, which is commonly referred to as Heartburn. It actually has nothing to do with the heart.

There are many reasons why this sphincter loosens up. You may be having any nerve issue or problem with some muscle that makes up the lower esophageal sphincter.

If you are very obese, fat may get deposited over the region, affecting the sphincter functioning. Read more on GERD.

GERD Leads to Mucus Production in the Throat

Stomach contents are acidic in nature. While the stomach wall, that produces it, can handle it well, our esophagus is not prepared to handle it and gets corroded.

The acid irritates the lower throat and an inflammatory response is elicited.  Mucosal lining of the throat swells up and constantly produces thick, sticky mucus, in an attempt to protect itself from the acid.  The patient feels as if something is constantly sticking in the throat.

You may feel symptoms like:

  • Burning sensation just under your breast bone, or upper tummy area
  • As if something in stuck in your throat, that needs to be cleared
  • Constant urge to clear your throat
  • Thick phlegm, which needs to be spit
  • In a long run, this phlegm may cause chronic cough
  • Soreness in throat, may even give throat pain
  • In severe cases, change in voice may be seen. Voice becomes hoarse.

In severe cases, the reflux of stomach contents is too much, and reaches high up in the esophagus. You may get irritating cough and a running nose. Post nasal drip may be there. If even a trace of acid reaches the lung tubules, you may wheeze and cough constantly. The picture is similar to asthma.

Factors Aggravating GERD

  • Obesity
  • Late Pregnancy
  • Having a heavy meal
  • Consuming Coffee, alcohol or chocolates. These food stuffs adversely affect the sphincter muscles, allowing more of gastric reflux.
  • After any surgery in the area
  • Very spicy food, too much of onions and garlic

Asthma Associated With GERD

Nearly half of the patients with asthma have been seen to be having some element of acid reflux from their stomach. It’s a common observation that asthma worsens after large meals, when we expect more acid reflux due to increased chances of back flow.

How acid coming from the stomach leads to asthma symptoms can be explained in more than one ways. Firstly, the acid irritates a nerve lying close to the lower esophageal sphincter. This nerve supplies the muscles controlling breathing. On being irritated, it tightens the muscles, narrowing the breathing spaces.

So, the patient starts wheezing.

Secondly, the acid may directly irritate the inner linings of the breathing tubes. Inflammation occurs there. The tubes get swelled from inside and  produce copious mucoid secretions. This narrows their lumen, giving wheezing.

How to Manage Acid Reflux At Home?

If you observe that you have symptoms of acid reflux, you may start following these general measures for relief-

  1. Avoid taking large meals at a time. Over filling the tummy may increase chances that the stomach contents would try to flow back. Instead, go for smaller frequent intakes of food.
  2. Limit to food stuff that aggravates acid reflux. These include chocolates, coffee, alcohol, smoking, too much of spices, onions and garlic, lots of tomatoes in a single meal.
  3. Avoid lying on bed after meals. Better to take a short stroll after food.
  4. Take your dinner early. Having a gap of around 2 hours between your dinner and sleeping time would give a chance for food to go further towards the intestine.
  5. You may raise your bed from the head side. This works well for many. It assures that your head, chest and upper abdomen is at a higher level than the rest of the body. Gravity would aid in preventing acid reflux.
  6. A little baking soda added in drinks or plain water works well in mild cases by neutralizing the acid coming from the stomach.
  7. You may also try over the counter anta acids for relief.

Visiting a doctor for further evaluation and diagnosis of the cause is suggested.

Take Care,

Buddy M.D.

Medical Advice (Q&As) on “Heartburn and Thick Sticky Mucus in the Throat

  1. Jesse

    I feel like something is stuck in my chest. Right behind my sternum. Keep drinking water but it’s not helping. Have heard it may be acid reflux.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      If it’s an acid reflux problem, you’ll have heartburn, some indigestion, and may be a burning sensation behind the sternum.

      Read above in detail about it, to see if the picture matches yours.

      Reply
  2. Will Whitaker

    I’m at my wit’s end with this thick saliva,, started out with being two much saliva,, now this,, help me please,, tried meds and patches,, now taking 40 mg of Priloset ,, nothing works

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Any associated symptoms, like headache, secretions from nose/ sinuses, heartburn, chest pain, couch, sneezes? Since when do you have this problem? Any recent change of residence?

      Reply
  3. jennifer

    I’ve had somewhat the same for over 5 years with doctors never diagnosing it properly!
    Feels like think mucus at the back of my throat and I get so much air in my chest that I can barely breathe having to do anything possible to make myself gag to be able to breathe

    Reply
  4. Nate

    Sound like you may have Eosinophilc Esophagitis (EOE). May be worth following up with a GI specialist. This could be due to a food allergy you newly developed or didn’t know you had and only your esophagus responds as the cells are different then the rest of the GI tract and the symptoms mimic GERD. However when trying to treat GERD symptoms nothing will help because that’s not truly the cause to your symptoms. Good luck!

    Reply
  5. Skidwel

    Over the last 6 months I have progressed from having heartburn to a light cough with some mucus. This lasted one month. Then, I started noticing the cough to become more barking like. Now I have wheezing and extreme shortness of breath with a constant feeling of thick mucus just below my Adam’s apple.

    Reply
    1. Skidwel

      Currently taking omeprizol to control heartburn but no improvement to breathing difficulty. Any suggestions are appreciated.

      Reply
      1. Buddy M.D. Post author

        You need to see a respiratory specialist. A thorough check up would reveal the problem.

        Season is changing rapidly these days. It may be some hyper response of your respiratory system against many allergens that get evoked these days.

        Symptoms need to be controlled. You may also start using a humidifier in your bed room whenever possible. This is to add moisture to the air you breathe. Dry air aggravates cough.

        Reply
  6. Kay

    Hi, I have been experiencing this sticky mucus in my throat for about a year or two. Currently, it stresses me out and feelings like dry throat. It really stresses me..I reported it to Dr. and nothing has been found. Please help me out.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Any history of seasonal allergies/ cough/ sneezes/ acidity or any other problem?

      Reply
  7. Prefer to remain anonymous

    I’m a 54 yr old female w/allergies. Overweight, and just quit smoking in December after 40 yrs of up to a pack a day. I do have hardened thick, sticky chunks of brownish phlegm in my throat. I know I’m not imagining it because I can occasionally cough one up, which is wonderful when it happens, but it’s few and far in between and short-lived, because there’s always more to take it’s place. Sometimes it’s lodged so badly, It has blocked my airway and many times makes me sound hoarse. In the meantime, I’m constantly trying to clear my throat or making myself cough to bring it up, which seldom works and only embarrasses & isolates me. I’d love to be able to cough it up but it doesn’t happen frequently enough. Maybe like once or twice a week. And what feels like the size of a large grape while it’s in my throat turns out to be no bigger than a flat raisin when it’s out. I’m working on losing weight, but what can I do to get rid of this crap now, short of swallowing a bottle brush?! I can’t stand living this way every day!

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      As you may understand, long term smoking irritates the inner mucosa of the respiratory tract. The mucosa so inflamed produces mucous, which gets thick with time. The condition is called chronic bronchitis.

      You are likely to be suffering from this condition.

      As you’ve quit smoking, the condition would reverse back to give you a healthy mucosa inside, however, this would take time .It may take a few months. Till then, this thick mucous may bother you.

      Mucous production is essential and it’s a part of body’s defense to trap and expel out allergens and toxins.

      For now, you may try anti histaminic pills, which would keep your allergies at bay and alleviate overall symptoms.

      Reply
      1. Prefer to remain anonymous

        Thank you for your response. Yes, I was aware there would be some mucous production; even that it would probably take more than a few weeks, before it was over. But I never imagined it would be anything like this.
        Please know that you are the first to finally give me a definitive answer, for which I’m eternally grateful. But now that I have you, I just had a couple more questions, so I have a better understanding.
        So how does mucous get from your lungs to your throat in the first place? Is it not necessary to expel the old, hardened stuff from your body, rather than keep it at bay with antihistamine? Not like I’m not gonna follow your suggestion. I guess I just hoped there might be a way to help my body move the process along before I lose my position voice captioning for the hearing impaired.

        Reply
        1. Buddy M.D. Post author

          It’s actually not the lungs, but the mucous lining of the inner airway pipes/ ducts that produce mucous. These airway tubes are very thin in diameter.

          Mucous thus produced needs to be expelled out. To accomplish this task, there is a regular sweeping done by special ciliary cells inner the inner airways. Gradually, mucous is swept and gets collected in the upper airway. From here, it may come out by coughing. To make this happen, our body may prompt us to cough.

          This is a natural process. No medicines required.

          We actually intervene in this process by giving anti histaminics. These pills reduce mucous production in the first place. So, there is lesser work left for the ciliary cells. However, cleaning may be compromised.

          Old mucous gets hardened if it keeps lying there and is not expelled out by cough. Another reason why it hardens is dehydration. Patient may be drinking less water those days.

          Reply

Ask Your Medical Question

Your Question will be answered by a specialist M.D. in 1-2 days.

To prevent unauthorized comments, we request you to solve a simple problem: *