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Why do people cough up mucus?

What is the point of coughing up junk? My wife insists that coughing up and spitting out mucus is a really good, helpful thing to do, but I'm sure she's wrong. Isn't mucus just a negative side effect of colds, like getting a fever or sneezing too much?
If you have chronic mucus production, that could be a sign of a chronic infection in the lungs. Mucus is produced by the lungs in order to trap dirt and harmful particles from entering the lungs. The reason that colds and infections can cause mucus production is because they can cause inflammation and damage of the lining of our lungs, causing increased secretion of mucus and sloughing of airway cells. Although mucus is designed to protect our lungs, it can also remain trapped in the lungs and cause airway spasm, cough and shortness of breath. For this reason, it is important to clear the mucus out. However, if you are having chronic mucus production, you should consult with your physician and have your mucus sent for culture to check if you might have a chronic infection. You may also need a chest x-ray and symptom review in order to ensure that there is not a more serious underlying condition causing the mucus production. There are many medications you can use in order to loosen up secretions and mucus. These include mucolytics, inhalers and nebulizers. Please discuss these options with your physician. If you are a smoker, you should quit smoking right away as this may be contributing to excessive airway secretions.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under ZocDoc’s Terms of Service.
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