What causes mucous?

I'm sure that's a very silly question but as a newbie to COPD and still trying to get my head around it I was wondering what causes it if you don't have an infection.

Before being diagnosed and prescribed an inhaler I was experiencing a mucousy cough, some days more so than others. Have had my inhaler almost two weeks now and if I use it 3 or 4 times a day I don't seem to produce so much. Yesterday I only used it twice and today I'm more mucousy than I have been for a few days. So it seems like the inhaler (Salbutamol) is doing something to reduce the mucous, but I'm just wondering why it's produced in the first place.

13 Replies

As I understand it Salbutamol opens the airways. I only take it in emergencies so perhaps you shoud call the helpline if you're worried or 'Ask Jeeves' or wikipedia about mucous?

I self diagnose all the time (& get it wrong) but I'm going to try to wean myself off dairy milk as I understand it's one of the mucous forming foods.

I would be interested in the effect of dairy products, peeg. I love my yoghurts although I understand probotics are good for you. Dont know a lot about all this

Ah yes, I get live yoghurt which has the probiotic in it & have 250grams a day plus oatbran for breakfast. I forgot about the yogurt when I rashly said I'd wean myself off milk! What a wally! I'm going to have to think this through properly. P

yeo valley organic yoghurts are apparently better probiotics , am told

I found cutting down on dairy products resulted in very little production of mucus. Huge relief as I suffered from sinusitis for years. I use soya milk in cereals, mild cheese and only a little semi-skimmed milk in coffee. Like you I love my yoghurt and have one daily. Have not had a head cold for over two years. Doctor said my immune system is working well. Hope you find this useful. Doreen

No question is silly on here SeasideSusie. Everyone produces mucus in their lungs, but if they don't have respiratory probs they really don't notice. This may help


C xxx

I get confused about mucous production too SeasideSusie because I cough up very little and wonder why when other people with COPD cough up loads. I even bought a flutter pipe to see if that would bring anything up but no. I never wheeze or cough, I could never cough up enough for a sample if ever needed.

Lib x

I can't actually cough it up either Libby, or very rarely, I think it's a psychological thing going back over 50 years as the only memory I have of my grandfather was him constantly coughing up mucous, spitting it into a square of newspaper and throwing it onto the fire. I now know he had chronic bronchitis. Strange how things affect us! Fortunately I don't produce a disturbing amount and if it is there I cough to move it. I just had this thought as to why mucous was produced - Cofdrop's link (thanks Cofdrop) explains that we need mucous for normal lung function, (so it has a job to do!), just that sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes I think I overthink things and these questions come into my head!!!

I was never able to do a sample for my GP either. I originally mentioned my mucousy cough 5 or 6 years ago, she gave me a sample pot so it could get tested for infection. I told her I have great difficulty coughing it up. It got left, I mentioned two years later that I hadn't been able to do a sample and her reply was "What are you like!". End of. Rather typical of our surgery unfortunately. Now, years further down the line and breathing difficulties have reared their ugly head I get this diagnosis of COPD but at least it was taken seriously enough to get referred to hospital. I just wish my GP would have explained to me what it's all about when I went to get the results of the hospital tests instead of just saying "You need an inhaler", I'm gathering as much info as possible and am making a list of questions for when I next go back!

Apart from chest infections, I am like you, libbygood.

Inflammation is a big cause of mucus production, as my airways become infected or irritated they produce much mucus. A steroid based inhaler helps with keep the inflammation at bay and thus reduces mucus and results in you using less of your reliever (blue) inhaler at the moment you are simply opening the airways allowing you to cough up the mucus but not stopping the production which is why many of us are on two or three inhalers a day. Sounds like you need a chat with the helpline and more help from our GP.


I have problems with a lot of mucous as I have Bronchiectasis. Anyway I have switched to non dairy products - lactose free products -as I developed a problem with my stomach digesting it however I found it did have a bearing on the mucous production. Especially cheese? Dont know exactly why. Also I find highly fatty food (chips are really bad) seems to make for a productive cough. I use salbutamol (ventolin) and I think it works by keeping your airways open so you deal with the mucous properly, when your airways are closed then it seems to build up - hence more noticable? I use a new device called an Acapella. Its like an inhaler except you breathe through it and it vibrates which makes 'huffing' the mucous up easier. I try and use it everyday. Seems to keep my chest clearer. I got it from Respiratory physio.

Hope this helps keep smiling :-)


What I've read seems to say that the inflammation of lungs causes lung cells to make more mucus. Steroids can reduce inflammation. Also I've read that drinking lots of fluids (no not whisky or wine ... pity!) makes the mucus easier to clear.

Since inflammation causes mucus things that irritate the lungs eg dust/mould/air pollution etc can also increase inflammation and increase mucus.

If you are coughing but not actually coughing up a lot of mucus it could be that the irritation in your lungs is making you cough and that you are not actually producing much mucus. I have this on occasions, coughing quite a lot, but very little mucus. I think this is to do we my lungs being irritated by dust etc

Hope this helps


Like Libbybegood I rarely cough and only produce mucous when I have an infection, then only a little. I sometimes get a 'frog' in my throat which is difficult to shift but don't think that is caused by mucous. Keep well and cheerful.

Carole x

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