We have mucus throughout our body, and it’s actually very important to keep our systems running properly – think of it as the oil that keeps the engine running smoothly. But phlegm is a particular kind of mucus that your lungs make when they’re trying to expel irritants such as bacteria or inflammatory cells from an infection, or irritants that might be causing you an allergic reaction.

Phlegm build-up is characterized by trouble breathing, a runny nose, coughing, and a constant need to clear your throat. Normally you should be able to cough phlegm out, but sometimes it needs a little coaxing! Before reaching for the pharmaceutical decongestant (which can sometimes thicken phlegm, making it even more difficult to cough up), try these home remedies for reducing phlegm:

1) Lemons. Healthy Holistic Living cannot emphasis enough what a superfood lemons are. They have antibacterial properties, the Vitamin C component boosts our immune systems, and the acetic acid is so powerful it can also be used as a great cleaning product around your home. The most pleasant way to get your lemon fix is to add two teaspoons of freshly squeezed juice to a cup of warm water, a sweeten it with some honey (which is also good for reducing phlegm – we’ll get to that next).

2) Honey. This wonderful sweet treat is recognized as a demulcent, which soothes your throat. According to Healthy Holistic Living, honey also contains dextromethorphan which is commonly found in cough medicines. There are a number of ways you can take honey – try a tablespoon of it with a pinch of black pepper, which will aid in fighting the infection. You can add honey to warm water (with or without lemon), and you can have multiple cups a day. Watch your sugar intake with this one, but if you’re not diabetic then a few spoons a day while you’re unwell won’t do you any harm.

3) Steam. This is one of the best ways to loosen up stubborn phlegm in your chest and throat. The hot steam liquifies the phlegm, allowing you to cough it up, according to Livestrong. Try having a long, hot shower, keeping the fan off and the doors closed to seal in all the steam. Alternatively, you can fill a mixing bowl or a basin with boiling water. Lean over the bowl with your head covered by a towel and inhale the steam for as long as necessary to loosen up the phlegm. Be very careful with this method, as steam can cause serious burns. Approach it gently without putting your face too close to the water, and ensure there are no children or pets around who might accidentally tip the water over.

4) Chest percussion. WebMD describes a technique whereby you create vibrations on the chest using a cupped hand. These vibrations help to move the phlegm into larger airways so that it can be coughed up. Chest percussion can be done at home by a partner, but it is important that you see your doctor first for proper instruction. You can see further explanation including diagrams here.

5) Salt Water. This is a fantastic remedy for three reasons, according to Top 10 Home Remedies. Salt water is a powerful antibacterial agent, it relaxes your throat, and it reduces inflammation. Dissolve a pinch of salt in a glass of warm water and gargle. Rinse and repeat several times a day.

6) Nasal Irrigation (NEXT PAGE)