Ewww, you awaken having to “throw up” foamy gunk (bile? acid? mucus?) and it tastes as bad as it looks. Is this acid reflux?

“If an individual has acid reflux, the brain can reflex, automatically respond, by stimulating salivation and mucus secretion,” says Hugh Mai, MD, Director of Endoscopic Ultrasonography and Bariatric Endoscopy, Gastroenterology Division, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore and LifeBridge Health.

“This can involve postnasal discharge which can pool in the hypopharynx when someone is sleeping, and that person can spit out a foamy, mucus-y phlegm in the morning.”

This can explain why some people — perhaps a family member of yours — immediately cough upon getting out of bed every morning.

And the cough and throat clearing sound like there’s a lot of “mucus-y” phlegm to get rid of.

You’re not actually upchucking at this point in the way you would if you had eaten contaminated meat or were suffering from a nauseous side effect of medication.

But there’s enough frothy stuff in your throat and mouth to make you spit it out.

Dr. Mai continues, “Bile tends to be yellow or green and will taste very bitter like soap and can be foamy with regurgitation.

“If someone vomits up acid, it tends to be clear, with a very sour taste. It can also be foamy if there is a lot of mucus as well.”

Preventing Morning Phlegm & Mucus

  • Avoid eating meals or big snacks close to bedtime. Keep three hours between your last meal or generous snack and when you go to sleep.
  • Avoid drinking liquor, even red wine, at least three hours before bedtime.
  • See what happens when you elevate the head-end of your bed about 10 inches (if possible). This slope will help deter your stomach’s acidic contents from traveling up your esophagus.
  • One last natural measure to prevent spitting up morning mucus, bile and other gunk is to elevate your torso with a wedge pillow (below).

wedge pillow for acid reflux

Dr. Mai is well-versed in the endoscopic treatment of GERD. LifeBridge Health provides the Baltimore community and beyond with a wide array of choices in health care services.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.