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Milk Products and Mucous in COPD
March 21st, 2012 | Author: COPD Coach
Dear COPD Coach,
I have always been told that if you have COPD you should not drink milk or
milk products such as ice cream because it will make mucous. Is this true?
Why do I seem to have more problems with mucous since I was told I have COPD?
–Do Milk Products Affect COPD?
Dear Milk Products,
The idea that milk causes the body to produce mucous has actually been around
for centuries. Finally, after all these years, studies have actually been
done to determine if this is indeed the case. The results were that milk does
not cause the body to produce mucous, BUT it does cause the phlegm to
thicken. It is believed that it is the fat content in the milk that causes
this reaction. Milk has lots of benefits for the body, including being an
excellent source of calcium and vitamins, so you have to weigh the benefits.
There are ways to thin out the mucous, which will be mentioned later in this
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Mucous actually performs an important purpose as it is traps dirt and
bacteria and small foreign objects and keeps them from entering our lungs. It
also aids in digestion and keeps our respiratory tissues from drying out. It
is secreted from membranes in our nose, airways and windpipe. Cilia, the
microscopic hairs in our respiratory system, sweep the dirty mucus upwards
through the airways and move it towards the windpipe so that the particles
can be coughed out or swallowed.
Why do COPD patients seem to have more problems with mucous? There are
actually three explanations.
First of all, as a result of COPD, in most cases the cilia in our respiratory
system is damaged and are not capable of moving the mucous through the
tissues as efficiently as it should.
Secondly, as a result of inflammation, our mucous membranes are producing
excess amounts of mucous in an effort to protect our respiratory tissues and
lungs. The body senses this extra mucus and tries to eliminate it by
The third problem is that since we generally have a limited lung function,
our cough response is not as strong as it should be which makes it more
difficult to cough the mucous out. As the mucous becomes thicker, the task of
eliminating excess mucous becomes even more difficult!
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Obviously, we don’t want to eliminate all the mucous in our body, but it is
important to rid ourselves of the large amounts that are obstructing our
breathing, as well as eliminating the dirt and foreign particles it contains
as these can become very irritating to our tissues and could cause
If you have COPD, the key is to keep the mucous thinner, so it is easier to
remove. Often times this requires using an airway clearing device (see our
recent ask the coach article on airway clearance devices). Drinking lots of
water can go a long way in helping thin the mucous and make the task of
eliminating it much more efficient. Some health care providers suggest
drinking club soda because the carbonation also helps loosen the mucous.
Certainly, mucous is not a pleasant thing to discuss, but the management of
it is very important for a COPD patient. Hope this helps!
All my best,
The COPD Coach
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