You see a familiar face when you look in the mirror but how well do you know your body? Did you know that your heart produces enough pressure to squirt blood nine metres, or that the acid in your stomach is strong enough to dissolve razorblades? If those facts didn’t surprise you, this one will: your body produces up to a litre of mucus every day, almost enough to fill a standard carton of milk.

This slippery fluid is present in the gastrointestinal tract, urogenital tract, and respiratory tract. It protects the tissue that lines your lungs, throat, and nasal and sinus passages — keeping them from drying out. It also traps unwanted bacteria and allergens such as dust and pollen, preventing them from getting into the body and making you sick.

When you’re battling a respiratory infection such as a cough or cold, you produce excess mucus that’s thicker. It will trap the pathogens responsible for the infection, as well as contain immune system agents to fight them. This isn’t a serious condition but it can be a nuisance, especially when it causes chest and nasal congestion.

“Your body produces up to a litre of mucus every day,
almost enough to fill a standard carton of milk.”

How to treat your congestion symptoms

Thankfully, there is relief for the millions of Canadians who get a cold and flu every winter. Decongestants reduce swelling of the lining tissues of your nose and throat by restricting blood flow, and expectorants thin out the mucus in your chest and airways, and makes your cough more productive.  Guaifenesin, an expectorant, is available in extended release bi-layer tablets, which last for up to 12 hours, and in liquids, which last up to 4 to 6 hours. The tablets are impressively longer-lasting than liquids, and are ideal for people who have trouble sleeping or who struggle to make it through the work day due to congestion.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Director of Professional Affairs for the Canadian Pharmacists Association Philip Emberley recommends taking an extra step before choosing a product. “You should talk to your pharmacist and come up with a comprehensive treatment plan,” he says. “That’s especially important if you’re taking prescription drugs.”

If your congestion lasts longer than 10 days you may have something other than a respiratory infection, so you should see a doctor. You should also see a doctor if your congestion is accompanied by a high fever; you may have a bacterial infection rather than a virus and may require antibiotics.

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. “There is no cure or vaccine for the common cold,” says Eric Guenin, Director of Medical Affairs at the consumer goods company Reckitt Benckiser. “But,” he says, “we encourage people to take the steps necessary to stay healthy throughout the winter.”