Secretion Management

What are secretions?

Secretions are the name used to describe the fluids that everyone has in their mouth and lungs.

Secretions in your mouth are sometimes called saliva.  Saliva helps to keep your mouth comfortable, it helps with digestion and it also helps to protect your teeth.

Secretions in your lungs are sometimes called mucus.  Mucus helps to trap small particles if they go into your lungs when you are breathing.   

graphic showing phlegm on lungs

Usually, these secretions are coughed up from your lungs and swallowed to clear them from the mouth.

Normally the secretions do not cause any problems.

Sometimes these secretions can cause problems.

Why you might struggle to clear secretions

Clearing your secretions means clearing your lungs and mouth.  You may struggle to clear your secretions for reasons such as:

If you are unable to clear your secretions this can result in airway obstruction or infection.

What can help you to clear secretions?

You may have been advised to use the following to help clear your secretions:

Breathing games and activities can help to clear secretions

If you have more secretions than usual

Sometimes, it can appear that you have more secretions than usual when you are unable to close your lips, this means that saliva can come out of the front of your mouth

If you do have more secretions than usual, it can mean that you struggle to manage these secretions.  This may mean that you drool saliva out of your mouth or down the back of your throat depending on your position.

If you have difficulty swallowing, excess secretions can increase your risk of aspiration pneumonia, drooling can also make your skin sore.

Please see dysphagia section for more information.

What can cause increased secretions?

  • Reflux or heartburn (sometimes referred to as GORD or gastro oesophageal reflux disease)  This is where the fluid contents of your stomach come back up out of your stomach. See Heartburn and reflux
  • Nasal obstruction, meaning that you have to breathe with your mouth open
  • Poor posture
  • Decaying teeth or poor dental hygiene (See Oral health and Oral care tabs)
  • Medication side effects – speak to your GP or Pharmacist if you think have more secretions than usual since starting a new medication
  • If you notice any changes in your saliva or how you manage your saliva ie coughing more on saliva or losing more saliva from your lips it is important to discuss this with your GP to check for any treatable condition/infection.
graphic of doctor with speech bubble with medicines to show 'giving medicine advice'

Dry mouth

Dehydration, mouth breathing, or side effects from some medications can cause your secretions to become thick and sticky and difficult to swallow.

It is important that oral care is provided to clear the thick saliva from your mouth and reduce the risk of aspiration.

If you are dehydrated, you should try to have more fluids. If you are able to, have small sips of water regularly throughout the day, this will help keep your mouth moist and reduce the risk of dehydration.  

Talk to your GP to review your medication if you think this may be causing a dry mouth.

Please see the Staying Hydrated tab for more information