Phlegm After Surgery?

I just had a mommy makeover 2 days ago and my biggest struggle has been phlegm in my throat/lungs after surgery. I feel like I need to cough it up often, but every time I cough I have tremendous, almost unbearable pain. I haven't seen this issue posted on this site. Is it unusual to have this problem? Any suggestions?

Doctor Answers 12

Phlegm after mommy makeover

Throat congestion and phlegm is likely related to the breathing tube causing irritation in the back of your throat. As you cough, you flex/tighten your abdominal wall which was just manipulated surgically, causing pain. I would treat the throat congestion as if you were sick and take anti-cough medicine as well, until enough time has passed that more healing has occurred and it hurts less to cough.

Hang in there!


Houston Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 15 reviews

Important to cough, deep breathe, and walk after surgery

Deep breathing, coughing, and walking are all very important to your overall health and prevention of complications post operatively. It sometimes helps to hold a pillow over your abdomen when you need to cough. An incentive spirometer (see your surgeon for a prescription) is also beneficial in helping you deep breathe and clear out any secretions. If the pain while coughing is unbearable you should talk to your surgeon about pain control. Best wishes.

Grant Stevens, MD
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
4.7 out of 5 stars 141 reviews

Surgery with general anesthesia commonly creates mucous in the upper airway and coughing.

An endotracheal tube can generate a small amount of irritation of the upper airway.  The cells respond by secreting protective mucous that may trigger the need to cough and clear the airway.  This can be problematic after abdominal surgery but in spite of the pain, the airway needs to be kept clean.

Vincent N. Zubowicz, MD
Atlanta Plastic Surgeon
4.7 out of 5 stars 33 reviews

Phlegm after TT/MM.

Talk to your PS and see if they can prescribe and incentive spiromoter. Using this will expand your lungs and restore a normal mucous flow. You might also discuss al little better pain control. Good luck, Dr. Aldo.

Aldo Guerra, MD
Scottsdale Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 198 reviews

Deep Breathing Important In Avoiding Pneumonia

Just like the majority of cosmetic surgeries. A mommy makeover requires a general anesthetic.The anesthesiologist puts down a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) into your airway to safely control your oxygen intake while you are asleep.The tube irritates the throat and disrupts the normal flow of secretions (phlegm) in the system.It is an unavoidable side effect.After surgery it is important to work with deep breathing and coughing to mobilize the secretions and expand your lungs to prevent pneumonia from getting a chance to set in.We typically give our patients a balloon to blow up every couple of hours for the first few days after surgery to help with deep breathing.Also getting up to walk frequently can help keep the lungs open.I know coughing right after surgery is incredibly uncomfortable, but imagine how sore it would be if you were constantly coughing with pneumonia!If you work hard with deep breathing for the first 2-3 days everything starts to get easier, the phlegm will dry up, and you will start to feel like yourself again.Hang in there!

Marie E. Montag, MD
Omaha Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 41 reviews

Phlegm after surgery?

Your problem is not uncommon. Many times after a surgical procedure patient's are reluctant to take deep breaths and cough because of the associated discomfort. The abdominoplasty component of the Mommy Make Over will tighten the abdomen making it slightly more difficult to take a deep breath. In addition to that the abdominal wounds are fresh and coughing and deep breathing often cause additional discomfort. There is also probably some discomfort associated with the chest component of the procedure. Because of the reluctance to take deep breaths and cough the normal clearing of phlegm is reduced. Some of the discomfort in the abdomen when coughing can be reduced by holding a pillow close to your abdomen while you cough. Blowing up a balloon several times a day will encourage you to take deep breaths. If you continue to have problems clearing your phlegm you should discuss this with your surgeon to help prevent further problems such as pneumonia. Good luck

John J. Edney, MD
Omaha Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 110 reviews

Address these symptoms, soon!

General anesthesia is frequently utilized for cosmetic surgery procedures.This type of anesthesia usually requires the insertion of an endotracheal tube to protect the airway and ensure oxygen delivery.Unfortunately, these tubes frequently irritate the lining of the airway.This can cause a sore throat with increased secretions and the development of phlegm.Under these circumstances, it’s not unusual for patients to develop a significant cough.
Coughing in the post-operative period can be associated with noticeable pain and discomfort in patients who have undergone chest and abdominal surgery.When this situation occurs, it’s important to splint the abdomen when coughing.It’s also helpful for post-operative patients to take deep breaths, ambulate frequently and utilize incentive spirometry.
When not dealt with properly, these conditions may progress to upper respiratory infections and even pneumonia.Under these circumstances, antibiotics may be necessary.For these reasons, it’s important to consult your plastic surgeon if you’re not seeing improvement in the immediate post-operative period.

Richard J. Bruneteau, MD
Omaha Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 193 reviews

Respiratory concerns after mommy makeover

Some coughing or throat discomfort is not uncommon after an operation because a tube is inserted in your airway to assist with breathing while you are asleep.  However, if the pain is unbearable or the cough persists it would be safest to contact your surgeon or seek other medical attention.

William Andrade, MD
Toronto Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 57 reviews

Phlegm after Mommy Makeover Surgery

    Yes, this is a very common occurrence after mommy makeover surgery or after any surgery utilizing general anesthesia with endotracheal tube.  Keeping the airway clear is good as well as deep breathing with incentive spirometry and ambulation. 

Kenneth B. Hughes, MD
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 477 reviews

Phlegm after surgery

It is not at all uncommon to have some irritation in the throat following general anesthesia.  This is likely due to the breathing tube that was in place during your operation.  Additionally, we are continuously producing secretions from our lungs that we are clearing out, usually without any awareness on our part.  The discomfort and tightness from your tummy tuck surgery will most certainly inhibit this natural clearing of secretions, potentially leading to the problem you describe.  It is important that you make effort to clear what feels like it needs to come out, in order to avoid a greater problem like post-op pneumonia - placing a pillow gently over your abdomen when you cough can be helpful with this.

Joshua D. Zuckerman, MD, FACS
New York Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 17 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.