What Happens If You Swallow Your Own Phlegm?

If you want to make a group of kids laugh, you can't go wrong with a snot joke. For years, cartoon programs have used phlegm gags to crack up their audience and make a point. After all, only people with gross habits would snort and spit phlegm, right?

It turns out that the presence of phlegm is much more common than most people think. Experts at Men's Health say that phlegm is a naturally occurring substance, not unlike boogers. It's largely made up of a combination of water, salt, and antibodies that formed when you breathed in something less than ideal, according to sinus and allergy specialist Dr. Brett Comer of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. He says that phlegm clears out our noses and throats in order to prevent blockage from irritants.

To clear out our passageways, phlegm has to naturally run down our throat. If you've ever caught yourself swallowing for no reason, there's a good chance that your body was just clearing itself of phlegm. But what happens after that? If phlegm is full of the nasty stuff that triggered the antibodies, should we be worried about swallowing it? Maybe those gags were right all along.

Your stomach safely breaks down phlegm

Good news for those who think spitting is gross. Swallowing your own phlegm is completely safe. Experts at scientific magazine, Science Focus, explain that in addition to the gunk from our nose and throat, phlegm is also a mucus cocktail of things that we've breathed into our lungs. The tiny hair-like structures in our respiratory tract push this phlegm back out of the lungs and into the throat where we swallow it down into our stomachs.

Once there, the pathogens — and everything else with them — are broken down by stomach acid. Because our stomachs have thick mucus-lined walls, everything in the phlegm is contained and broken down. It's through this process that the body works to remove germs and irritants from the lungs, where those same pathogens would have access to the body's blood supply.

So you can spit if you want to, though others might prefer you didn't. But as an alternative, there is no harm in swallowing your own phlegm. It's just going to break down in the stomach and leave with the rest of your body's waste the next time you make a trip to the bathroom.