Why does your kid make so much mucus?
No one really puts too much thought into mucus. It's considered an annoying byproduct of getting sick or it can be a frustrating chronic problem that puts kids at a higher risk of infections. There are just some kids that seem to produce a lot of mucus, these are the kids that get many ear infections and often get Eustachian tubes in their ears. But why are they producing so much mucus? The body rarely does things by accident, every symptom is an attempt to help compensate, manage or fix an imbalance within the system.
So why mucus? conventional medicine is actually one of the only forms of medicine that doesn't give much credit to phlegm. Traditional Chinese medicine, ayervedic and even the root of western medicine, the four humors, have A LOT to say about this unpopular body fluid.
Let's look at it from a purely scientific explanation first. phlegm is made up of antibodies, proteins, water, and polysaccharides. it is one of the initial attempts by the immune system to protect against illness, it is produced by our mucus membranes to prevent invaders from getting into deeper organs, more critical to life. Ironic that a substance that is supposed to protect us from illness, is so often the initiator of sickness. Too much of a good thing is rarely good. If a child is chronically producing too much mucus, it is because their immune system is consistently getting assaulted by some sort of trigger OR their immune system is slightly out of balance.
So why is it that one kid gets a lot of mucus while another doesn't? Well, every person has a different threshold, and a different presentation of an "out-of-balanced" state. One of the things influencing this is if the child is parasympathetic (rest and digest) dominance or a sympathetic (fight or flight) dominance. Interestingly, Ayervedic Medicine and the 4 humors describe a "phlegmy" personality type, similar to parasympathetic dominance picture; relaxed, calm with an imbalance of apathy and laziness. Even the conventional pharmaceutical model supports this concept. Nasal Decongestants, like Mucinex and Sudafed, release chemicals similar to epinephrine, the main hormone in the fight or flight mode.
Ayervedic Medicine- Ayervedic is the traditional Indian philosophy of medicine that is thought to be over 5,000 years old, it was formed by careful observation of the human existence throughout the ages. It is a complex science by one of the basic principles is the concept of the three doshas, which explains the body to be a certain percentage of three distinct doshas: vata, kapha and pita. In this system, children and people in Kapha dominance often produce too much mucus when they are out of balance. There are clear prescriptions to reduce Kapha dominance and help balance the three doshas, many of the suggestions overlap with the Chinese medicine perspective.
Traditional Chinese Medicine- TCM provides us with the most detail about phlegm. It has categorized 5 different types of phlegm, all resulting from different levels of imbalance and all having different remedies. Rather than going into detailed TCM philosophy, what is most useful from this system of medicine is their list of phlegm producing foods. In the section below, I've listed the foods that increase or decrease mucus production.
If you would like to learn more about the different types of phlegm, this easy to read book is remarkably amusing considering the topic at hand, Yuck! Phlegm!: How to Clear Your Phlegm Using Ideas from Chinese Medicine by Jonathan Clogstoun-Willmott.
4 humours model- the four humours are blood, yellow bile, black bile and Phlegm. Phlegm is associated with calm and relaxed personalities and imbalance of apathetic behavior. Phlegm is considered a force that expels disease and eliminates impurities.
So what to do about it?
1. Remove mucus-forming foods
All Dairy (milk, cream, butter (Ghee is OK), Cheeses)
Sweet foods (Sweet food produces more Kapha, the exact opposite of what you want)
Any known food allergens (eggs, wheat, corn, orange, peanuts, soy, chocolate)
2. Add mucus reducing foods
Garlic, onion, green tea, lemon, celery
Foods rich in Proteolytic enzymes: Fresh Pineapple, Papaya
Plenty of Warm! fluids
3. Food Temperature- Since phlegm is typically a result of excess cold and dampness, it is important to eat warm foods, both temperature and energetically such as ginger, cinnamon and pepper.
4. dehumidifier, sauna,
5. gentle walking after eating. Although we want the body to be in a parasympathetic state while digesting, for Para dominance individuals, it is possible to swing too far into this state. which is why they often get too tired after eating and need a nap. To moderate this, it can be helpful to do gentle movement, like moderately paced walking, after a meal.