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Essential Guide: Managing Mucus in Throat After ACDF Surgery

Home » Blog » Essential Guide: Managing Mucus in Throat After ACDF Surgery

Medical Device inserts of a person that has mucus in throat after acdf surgery

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After undergoing anterior cervical discectomy fusion (ACDF) surgery, many patients may experience an increase in mucus production, leading to discomfort and irritation. This blog will explore the reasons behind mucus buildup post-ACDF surgery, the potential risks and adverse effects of mucus accumulation, as well as provide tips and techniques for managing mucus and promoting a healthy recovery. Understanding the factors contributing to mucus production, along with implementing appropriate strategies, can significantly improve the post-surgery experience for AC patients. Let’s delve into the world of mucus after ACDF surgery and learn how to cope with it effectively.

Understanding Mucus after ACDF Surgery 

Mucus, a clear and slimy substance, plays a vital role in the body’s defense mechanisms, helping to protect the throat, esophagus, and respiratory system. Following ACDF surgery, patients may notice an increase in mucus production, leading to a range of discomforts. To better understand the factors contributing to mucus buildup post-ACDF surgery, it is important to first grasp the nature of the surgery itself. 
A group of surgeons operating on someone that will have mucus in throat after acdf surgery

What is ACDF Surgery? 

ACDF surgery, short for anterior cervical discectomy fusion, is a surgical procedure commonly performed to address cervical spine issues, such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, or degenerative disc disease. During the surgery, the neurosurgeon removes the damaged disc in the neck, creating a space between the vertebral bodies in the cervical spine. The vertebral bodies are then fused together using a bone graft or a cervical plate, promoting stability and relieving pressure on the nerves in the neck. While the surgery aims to alleviate neck pain, numbness, and weakness, patients may experience swelling in the surgical site, leading to phlegm-related discomfort such as metallic taste, known as dysgeusia, in the mouth and throat.

Why Does Mucus Production Increase after ACDF Surgery? 

The increase in phlegm production after ACDF surgery can be attributed to a combination of factors, including irritation from the surgical site, soft tissue trauma, swelling, numbness in the throat, and disruption of the body’s natural phlegm clearance mechanisms. The surgical procedure itself, along with the body’s natural response to the surgery, can lead to mucus buildup in the throat and neck, causing discomfort and a lump-in-the-throat sensation. Several studies have identified mucus production as a common complication in patients who have undergone ACDF surgery. The soft tissue trauma, swelling, and disruption of the throat’s phlegm clearance mechanisms can contribute to the accumulation of phlegm in the surgical site. Additionally, numbness in the throat or neck, a common post-surgery symptom, can further contribute to mucus build-up. It is essential to manage phlegm accumulation effectively, as it can potentially lead to aspiration, a risk of inhaling the mucus into the lungs, which can result in pneumonia or other respiratory complications. Therefore, understanding how to manage mucus post-ACDF surgery becomes crucial in promoting a healthy recovery. 
A woman about to go into surgery before experiencing mucus in throat after acdf surgery

ACDF: Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion 

Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) is a surgical procedure that involves removing a damaged disc from the neck and fusing the adjacent vertebrae together. While it is a common surgery, patients may experience mucus in their throat after ACDF surgery. This is because during the surgery, the airway is temporarily displaced, which can cause irritation and inflammation of the throat. It usually resolves within a few days to weeks post-surgery and can be managed with throat lozenges or medication prescribed by your doctor. If you experience prolonged symptoms, consult your doctor immediately for further evaluation.

How to Manage Mucus in Throat After ACDF Surgery and Swelling 

Managing mucus after ACDF surgery involves a combination of strategies that focus on maintaining a clear throat, promoting mucus clearance, and preventing further mucus buildup. Let’s explore some of the effective techniques for managing mucus discomfort in the throat and neck region. 
An elderly man drinking water to soothe his mucus in throat after acdf surgery

Importance of Hydration 

One of the fundamental aspects of managing mucus in throat after ACDF surgery is ensuring adequate hydration. Staying hydrated helps in maintaining clear passages, preventing phlegm from becoming thick and sticky, and enhancing the body’s natural phlegm clearance mechanisms. ACDF patients are often advised to consume clear liquids, such as water, herbal tea, or clear broth, in the early stages of their recovery, as it promotes hydration and mucus control in the throat.

Effective Breathing Techniques 

Practicing effective breathing techniques can significantly aid in mucus management post-ACDF surgery. Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, help in clearing mucus, strengthening the respiratory muscles, and enhancing overall respiratory health. By incorporating controlled, deep breaths, patients can dislodge mucus, reduce discomfort, and facilitate the body’s natural mucus clearance process, leading to a more comfortable recovery.

Use of Humidifiers 

Humidifiers can be a valuable tool in managing mucus discomfort after ACDF surgery. These devices help in maintaining a healthy throat environment, preventing dryness, irritation, and mucus buildup in the throat. By increasing the moisture in the air, a humidifier can alleviate throat irritation, promote mucus clearance, and reduce discomfort caused by mucus accumulation. 
Mucus in throat after acdf surgery causing a woman to experience unappetizing metallic taste symptoms

Why Does the Phlegm Taste Like Metal? 

ACDF (Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion) surgery is a common procedure for treating neck pain and cervical spine issues. However, patients who undergo this surgery may experience an unpleasant metallic taste in their phlegm, which can be quite uncomfortable. The main reason behind this metallic phlegm taste is the use of metal implants during the surgery. When these implants come into contact with bodily fluids, they can cause a metallic taste.

Causes of Metal-Tasting Phlegm 

The presence of mucus after ACDF surgery can result in a metallic taste in phlegm. This taste can be attributed to a range of factors, including swallowing difficulties, numbness in the throat, discomfort in the esophagus, inflammation in the larynx, or irritation in the throat due to the surgery itself. The sensory disruption caused by the surgery, coupled with mucus accumulation, can lead to the phlegm having a metallic taste. 

Potential Treatments for the Metal-Tasting Phlegm 

If you experience a metallic taste in phlegm after ACDF surgery, there are a few potential treatment options to consider. Consuming clear liquids, such as water, herbal tea, or clear broth, can help alleviate the metallic phlegm taste. Additionally, sticking to soft foods in the early stages of recovery can aid in reducing discomfort. Engaging in short walks and gentle activities may also help alleviate the discomfort of the metallic phlegm taste. You could also try using MetaQil® Oral Rinse, the first-of-its-kind rinse that can help relieve the symptoms of Dysgeusia or Metallic Taste. Using a cervical collar, as advised by your healthcare provider, can provide support and reduce discomfort associated with the metallic phlegm taste. If the symptoms persist or worsen, it is always advisable to consult a medical professional for guidance on managing the metallic phlegm taste. 

A woman gargling saline solution to relieve mucus in throat after acdf surgery

Tips for Preventing Further Phlegm Buildup 

Preventing further mucus buildup is essential in managing mucus discomfort after ACDF surgery. Here are a few tips to help minimize mucus accumulation in the throat: 

  • Stay hydrated: Adequate hydration plays a crucial role in preventing mucus buildup post-ACDF surgery. Drinking enough water and clear liquids helps in maintaining a clear throat, preventing mucus from becoming thick and sticky, and promoting mucus clearance. 
  • Gargle with saline solution: Gargling with a saline solution, made by dissolving a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water, can provide relief from mucus discomfort in the throat. This helps in reducing mucus accumulation, soothing the throat, and promoting a clear throat passage. 
  • Inhale steam: Inhaling steam, either from a hot shower or a bowl of hot water, can help dislodge mucus and prevent further mucus buildup in the throat. The steam helps in loosening mucus, making it easier to clear the throat. 
  • Avoid irritants: Avoiding irritants, such as smoke, allergens, or other environmental factors, can help in minimizing mucus production and preventing further discomfort in the throat. These irritants can exacerbate mucus production, leading to increased mucus buildup in the throat. 
  • Follow the recommended post-surgery care plan: Adhering to the recommended post-surgery care plan, provided by your healthcare provider, is crucial in preventing excessive mucus buildup. Following the prescribed guidelines, such as dietary recommendations, neck exercises, and medications, can significantly contribute to a healthy recovery and mucus management. 
A graphic image showing lungs and impact of mucus in throat after acdf surgery

Potential Risks and Adverse Effects of Mucus Build-up 

While mucus in throat after ACDF surgery is a common occurrence, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and adverse effects associated with excessive mucus accumulation in the throat and neck region. 

Threat to Respiratory Health 

Excessive mucus accumulation following ACDF surgery can pose a risk to respiratory health, as it may interfere with the proper functioning of the respiratory system. The mucus can block the airways, making it difficult to breathe, and potentially leading to respiratory discomfort, shortness of breath, or a feeling of suffocation. Therefore, managing mucus effectively is crucial in maintaining the respiratory well-being of patients post-ACDF surgery.

Impact on Swallowing and Digestion with a Lump in the Throat 

Mucus buildup in the throat can also impact swallowing and digestion in patients who have undergone ACDF surgery. The discomfort caused by mucus accumulation can interfere with the swallowing process, leading to swallowing difficulties, a feeling of a lump in the throat, or discomfort in the esophagus. This, in turn, can affect the overall digestion process, causing discomfort in the gastrointestinal tract and potentially leading to constipation or other digestive issues. It is important to address mucus-related swallowing and digestion problems to ensure a smooth recovery. 
A graphic showing throat discomfort due to mucus in throat after acdf surgery

Why Do Patients Experience Mucus in Their Throat After ACDF Surgery? 

After ACDF surgery, mucus in the throat is common due to the irritation caused by the surgery and intubation. Neck surgery disrupts the natural mucus flow, leading to an accumulation in the throat. It typically resolves on its own within a few weeks as the throat heals.

Rehabilitation and Treatment Methods 

In addition to managing mucus in throat after ACDF surgery, rehabilitation and treatment methods play a significant role in the post-ACDF surgery recovery process. Let’s explore a few techniques and interventions that can aid in the rehabilitation of patients who have undergone ACDF surgery.

Physiotherapy Techniques 

Physiotherapy, including neck exercises, can play a crucial role in the recovery of patients who have undergone ACDF surgery. These exercises aim to improve neck function, range of motion, and overall neck mobility, while also reducing swelling, discomfort, and numbness in the throat and neck region. By incorporating neck exercises into the recovery process, patients can enhance cervical spine stability, promote a gradual return to normal activities, and support a healthy recovery. 

A doctor looking at X-Rays of a patient with mucus in throat after acdf surgery

Medical Interventions 

Medical interventions, such as anterior cervical discectomy fusion (ACDF) surgery, are gold standard treatments for cervical spine issues. ACDF surgery involves the fusion of vertebral bodies in the cervical spine, alleviating pressure on the nerves and providing stability in the neck region. Additionally, barium swallow studies are conducted to assess swallowing function post-surgery, ensuring a safe recovery. Radiographic assessment, such as X-rays or CT scans, helps in monitoring the fusion of vertebral bodies, guiding neurosurgeons in surgical planning, and ensuring the success of the surgery. By utilizing medical interventions, healthcare professionals can address the root cause of cervical spine issues, reduce mucus-related discomfort, and promote a healthy recovery.

Role of Diet in Controlling Mucus 

Managing mucus discomfort after ACDF surgery involves paying attention to dietary choices, as certain foods can either promote mucus reduction or exacerbate mucus production in the throat. 
An elderly man and woman eating watermelon to reduce mucus in throat after acdf surgery

Mucus-Reducing Foods 

Incorporating mucus-reducing foods into the diet can aid with mucus in throat after ACDF surgery. Such foods include hydrating foods, such as watermelon, cucumber, and herbal teas, which help in maintaining mucus in a more liquid form, reducing discomfort in the throat. Foods high in fiber, such as oats, whole grains, and fruits, aid in phlegm elimination, promoting a clear throat passage. Additionally, anti-inflammatory foods, like ginger, turmeric, and leafy greens, can help in reducing mucus production, alleviating throat discomfort. Consuming soft, non-acidic foods, such as soups, mashed potatoes, and yogurt, can be gentle on the throat, preventing irritation and mucus buildup. Lastly, incorporating nutrient-dense foods, such as lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, supports the body’s overall recovery process, including mucus management.

Foods to Avoid 

While phlegm-reducing foods are beneficial in managing phlegm discomfort, there are certain foods that should be avoided, as they can exacerbate mucus production in the throat. Acidic foods, like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and vinegar, can cause throat discomfort, leading to increased mucus production. Spicy foods, such as chili peppers or hot sauces, may irritate the throat, triggering excess mucus production. Hard, crunchy foods, like chips or raw vegetables, can strain swallowing, increasing the risk of mucus accumulation in the throat. Sugary foods, including candies, sodas, and pastries, can worsen mucus production in the throat. Lastly, carbonated and caffeinated beverages, such as soft drinks or coffee, may stimulate mucus glands, leading to increased mucus in the throat. By avoiding these foods, patients can minimize mucus discomfort and promote a clear throat passage. 
An elderly man lying in a hospital bed looking out the window with mucus in throat after acdf surgery

Measures to Prevent Excessive Mucus 

Preventing excessive mucus buildup is a crucial aspect of managing mucus in throat after ACDF surgery. Let’s explore a few measures that can be implemented to minimize mucus accumulation in the throat and neck region.   

Preoperative Care 

Preoperative care plays a vital role in phlegm management, preparing patients for a smoother recovery process. Preoperative counseling, conducted by healthcare professionals, addresses patients’ concerns about mucus discomfort, ensuring clear communication and understanding of the surgery process. This, in turn, reduces preoperative anxiety, promoting a positive surgical experience. Additionally, neck exercises in the preoperative phase can facilitate postoperative recovery, improving neck range of motion, and neck muscle strength, aiding in mucus control post-surgery. Clear instructions on mucus management, provided by the healthcare team, enhance patient readiness, allowing patients to make informed decisions and actively participate in their own recovery. 

Postoperative Care 

Postoperative care is of utmost importance in preventing excessive mucus buildup and managing phlegm discomfort after ACDF surgery. A supportive recliner, as recommended by the healthcare provider, helps in maintaining a comfortable position, reducing swelling, discomfort, and mucus-related complications. Consuming soft foods in the early stages of recovery prevents phlegm discomfort, allowing the throat to heal gradually. Monitoring surgical site swelling, as part of the postoperative care plan, ensures the surgical site is healing properly, minimizing phlegm-related complications. Ensuring clear liquids, in the form of water, herbal tea, or clear broth, aids in phlegm control post-surgery, promoting a clear throat passage. Engaging in gentle neck exercises, as advised by the healthcare team, improves post-surgery range of motion, neck muscle strength, and mucus clearance. 
A woman seeing a doctor because of her mucus in throat after acdf surgery

When to Seek Medical Attention 

While mucus discomfort is a common occurrence after ACDF surgery, it is important to be aware of the red flags that warrant medical attention. Knowing when to seek medical advice can help in detecting potential complications early, ensuring prompt assessment and appropriate management.

Identifying Red Flags 

Several red flags indicate the need for medical attention in the post-ACDF surgery recovery process. Pay attention to the following symptoms: 
  • Difficulty swallowing, neck discomfort, numbness, or mucus color changes. 
  • Persistent sore throat, swelling, or aspiration symptoms, such as coughing or choking. 
  • Signs of pneumonia, such as a persistent cough, shortness of breath, or fever. 
  • Irritation in the larynx, throat, or neck region, causing discomfort or disruption in range of motion. 
  • Loss of appetite, excess phlegm has a metal taste that is affecting your appetite and you’re not eating because of it. 
  • Discomfort in the throat, soft tissue swelling, or an increased risk of complication due to mucus-related factors. 
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical advice promptly. Your healthcare provider will be able to assess the situation, provide a proper diagnosis, and recommend appropriate treatment options if necessary. 
A woman put off eating because of mucus in throat after acdf surgery

How Long is Too Long to Cope with Phlegm after Neck Surgery? 

Coping with phlegm discomfort should gradually decrease in the weeks following neck surgery. However, if phlegm symptoms persist beyond the expected recovery period, it may be a sign of a complication, requiring a consultation with a neurosurgeon or a healthcare professional specializing in neck surgery. Prolonged mucus discomfort after the expected recovery period may warrant a radiographic assessment, such as an X-ray, CT scan, or barium swallow, to evaluate the surgical site, fusion of vertebral bodies, or the presence of other factors contributing to mucus accumulation. Consistent phlegm discomfort, impeding swallowing or causing discomfort, should be addressed by a healthcare professional to ensure a healthy recovery. 

A man and woman looking at each other while he is lying in a hospital bed with mucus in throat after acdf surgery


In conclusion, coping with mucus after ACDF surgery can be challenging but manageable. It is important to understand the causes of increased mucus production and take appropriate measures to manage it effectively. Hydration, breathing techniques, and the use of humidifiers can help in reducing mucus buildup. Additionally, understanding the potential risks and adverse effects of mucus build-up is crucial for maintaining respiratory health and proper swallowing and digestion. Rehabilitation and treatment methods such as physiotherapy techniques and medical interventions can aid in the recovery process. Paying attention to diet by including mucus-reducing foods and avoiding certain foods can also help control excessive mucus. Lastly, knowing when to seek medical attention is essential. If you experience any red flags or if coping with phlegm becomes prolonged, it is recommended to consult your healthcare provider for further evaluation and guidance. 

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Jennifer Flanders
25+ years in Sales & Marketing, skilled in layouts, logos, and social content. Jeep enthusiast, nature explorer, committed to community impact.

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