Phlegm in throat after eating

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What is mucus and what is phlegm?

Mucus is a fluid produced in many parts of the body, it covers and protects the most important organs from drying out, dust, infections, etc. Mucus contains enzymes that protect these organs from infections.

The mucus produced by the respiratory system is called phlegm.

When we have flu or cold, often an excessive amount of phlegm is produced. We cough to get rid of the extra amount of phlegm.

However, you can have excessive amounts of phlegm in your throat even if you don’t have cold or flu. Some people experience this after having a meal.

What causes phlegm after eating?

A short video about the most common causes of excessive throat mucus. Duration: 4:25

In case of eating-related excessive phlegm production and chronic coughing, doctors tend to look for the following problems:

Studies (1, 2, 3) show that reflux is a common cause of phlegm in the throat after eating.

Phlegm and reflux

We talk about acid reflux when the contents of your stomach can flow back up into the esophagus. This might make you cough and your body might respond to it with excessive phlegm production.

These are the most common symptoms of acid reflux:

  • heartburn, chest pain
  • sour taste in the mouth
  • regurgitation

Symptoms usually get worse when lying down.

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (or silent reflux) is similar to acid reflux, but the symptoms are different. This is common in infants, but adults also can have silent reflux.

It is often silent reflux that causes coughing and phlegm production after eating.

Turns out it is not easy to diagnose reflux-related phlegm production, since many people who have phlegm after eating don’t produce the typical symptoms of acid reflux listed above.

Doctors might use upper endoscopy or a 24h esophageal pH monitoring to diagnose the problem.

However, before doing such procedures they might suggest medications or dietary changes to see if your symptoms get better.

Phlegm and food sensitivity

It might not seem obvious, but certain foods can also cause phlegm production and chronic cough.

In case of food sensitivity, you might have gastrointestinal symptoms, like chest pain or diarrhea, besides coughing and phlegm.

Milk and milk allergy is probably the most common and well-known type of food sensitivity that can cause excessive phlegm.

However, besides milk and dairy products, there are a number of other foods that might trigger mucus production:

Diagnosing food sensitivities can be tricky because of the wide range of symptoms and types of trigger foods.

Doctors might use food allergy tests or blood tests to find out what food is causing allergic reactions.

Phlegm in throat after eating

Coughing dark, smelly mucus after eating

Coughing up smelly, dark, or greenish mucus after eating might indicate a condition called aspiration from dysphagia. In plain English, this means a difficulty of swallowing (dysphagia) causes food or drink to enter the lungs by accident (aspiration).

In most cases, the body can get rid of the foreign particles by coughing. However, sometimes it can’t, which leads to a more serious condition, called aspiration pneumonia.

In this case, the bacteria on the swallowed food might cause more serious symptoms. Chest pain, fever, shortness of breath, wheezing can occur besides coughing up mucus.

How to reduce phlegm buildup after eating?

No matter whether you have reflux or food sensitivity, there are a number of OTC medications that might help to mitigate the symptoms, like excessive phlegm production. If your doctor recommends medications, be sure to take them as prescribed.

However, keep in mind that medications only treat the symptoms, not the root cause.

If food allergy is causing you excessive phlegm, you need to avoid the foods you are allergic to.

If your symptoms are related to eating, chances are there are certain trigger foods that cause these symptoms. Finding these trigger foods and limiting your intake or completely eliminating them from your diet might go a long way in helping to reduce the discomfort you feel after meals.

There are some general recommendations that often help on eating-related problems:

  • try to limit the amount you eat, overeating often causes issues
  • eat less, but more often
  • chew your food well
  • try not to eat 2-3 hours before going to sleep
  • avoid foods with high fat or sugar content

With proper eating habits, your condition might improve significantly.

What foods can help with reflux-triggered phlegm?

There are several different reasons why reflux might trigger phlegm production:

Too much acid

Eating too much acidic food, like orange, pineapple or certain vegetables can trigger acid reflux for some people.

Fatty and sugary foods also aggravate stomach acid production and might cause problems.

Probiotics are full of good gut bacteria that aid digestion.

Probiotics can help digestion, buttermilk and some yogurts naturally contain probiotics. If you are after a more powerful and convenient solution, you can try probiotic supplements, which contain high quantities of good bacteria.

Too little acid

Strange as it may sound, low stomach acid levels can also cause acid reflux.

The reason for this is slow digestion and decreased gut motility. You might want to check out our article about constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux for more info about this.

Many people find that a small amount of apple cider vinegar before having a meal helps to avoid reflux symptoms.

Apple cider vinegar is a popular natural acid reflux remedy.

If you don’t like the taste (or smell) of apple cider vinegar, you can try it in an extract capsule form.

Final words

Coughing up phlegm after eating can be a really unpleasant experience. While finding out the cause of the problem and the appropriate treatment can be complicated, you can do a lot to at least help and sometimes completely eliminate your symptoms by finding out what foods are causing the problem.

Using a food diary can be a big help in this. After every meal write down what exactly you ate and if you had any symptoms. After a few weeks, you might see a pattern and know which foods are likely to trigger the problems.

Once you know your trigger foods, changing your diet can have a positive effect on your condition.