When you cough up phlegm, it is called sputum. Sputum can come in unique colours, which may get you confused.
However, I will show you the conditions that cause phlegm coughs, reasons the sputum changes colour, and when to see your doctor.
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Coughing up phlegm or sputum
When you have an infection, your body produces more phlegm.
This phlegm gathers in your throat, causing irritations that lead to coughing up mucus.
The colour of the mucus depends on the cause of the cough.
Coughs from minor infections produce white mucus.
Others may be black, green or red depending on the cause.
Coughing up yellow or green phlegm and what it means.
If you are coughing up green or yellow phlegm, know that your system is fighting an infection.
The green or yellow colour comes from white blood cells (neutrophils). And it means that the immune system is in control.
Bacteria and viruses can cause green or yellow sputum cough. In fact, studies have linked a greater number of green or yellow phlegm to bacteria infection. But that doesn’t mean that bacteria cause every green or yellow snot.
When bacteria cause a cough, symptoms last over 10 days.
But if it is a virus, the symptoms die quicker either naturally, or with home remedies.
Conditions that cause green or yellow phlegm
- Sinusitis: Sinus infection medically called rhinosinusitis is the swelling of the nasal cavities majorly caused by a virus, and sometimes bacteria or fungus.
Coughing up white mucus (snot)
You may cough up white snot if you have any of the following conditions.
GERD: This is a digestive disorder that causes the flow back of stomach acid into the esophagus. GERDS can cause a nighttime cough with white phlegm.
Viral bronchitis: This is an infection of the airways (bronchi) by a virus.
Bronchitis may start with a sore throat and a cough that brings up white mucus. If the infection advances to a bacterial infection, the mucus may change to green or yellow.
Heart failure: This occurs when there is a poor circulation of blood in your body. Fluids pill up in various areas including lungs, to cause edema, shortness of breath, white mucus and others.
COPD: This is the general name for lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Smoking causes COPD and prolongs exposure to a hazardous environment.
Their major symptoms are breathing difficulty, cough with sputum, and others.
Coughing up brown or rusty phlegm
Brown phlegm is a sign of chronic lung diseases. The colour comes from old blood that comes from inflammation and chronic disease.
You may cough up brown or rusty snot if you have
Cystic fibrosis (CF): CF is a disease of the mucus and sweat gland. It causes thick and sticky mucus to clog into your lungs, leading to bacterial growth and breathing difficulties.
CF may also cause rusty coloured phlegm.
Bacterial pneumonia: Bacterial induced pneumonia can cause brown rusty phlegm.
Chronic bronchitis: Bronchitis also produces brown rusty sputum. And it is more common among smokers.
Coughing up bloody phlegm.
Bloody snot is a sign of lung infection that any of the following may cause.
Tuberculosis: TB is a contagious bacterial disease that spreads by air, through coughing, sneezing, etc.
Symptoms include persistent coughing, night sweat, coughing blood and bloody sputum, fever, and others.
Lung cancer: This can cause several symptoms, including coughing up blood and bloody mucus.
Pulmonary embolism: This is a sudden blockage of the artery, caused by a tiny blood clot that travels from the leg to the lungs. This often results in bloody sputum, difficulty breathing and chest pain.
Pneumonia: This infection may cause bloody phlegm as it advances. It can also cause coughing and chest pain, fever, and others.
Heart failure: This occurs when your heart is not pumping enough blood into the body. Such can lead to breathing difficulties and bloody snot.
Coughing up black phlegm
Black phlegm is also known as melanoptysis. coughing up black sputum may mean you have exposed yourself to coal dust. It may also mean you have pneumoconiosis or fungal infection.
Coughing up white phlegm with bubbles.
Mucus with white bubbles are called frothy sputum. Frothy sputum can be a symptom of the following conditions.
- pulmonary edema
coughing up clear mucus
Clear mucus has nothing to worry about, our body produces it daily.
It is made up of antibodies, proteins, salts, and water which softens and protects our airways.
An increase in clear mucus production may mean your system is trying to get rid of allergies or viral infections.
Below are the conditions that may spike clear mucus production.
Hay fever: This arises from exposure to allergens such as pollen grains, dust, and weeds.
The allergens make you produce more mucus which drops at the back of your throat, making you cough up clear mucus.
Viral pneumonia: This condition arises from a virus infection in the airways. The signs are cough, fever, increase in clear mucus production and other symptoms.
Viral bronchitis: This is the inflammation of the bronchi, (a tube that carries air in and out of your lungs).
It starts with a cough that may bring up white or clear mucus. The phlegm colour may change to green or yellow as it progresses.
Coughing up phlegm, but not sick
If you are coughing up phlegm but not feeling sick, it may mean your body once had a minor viral infection.
Applying natural remedies and boosting your immune system can help relieve the symptoms.
When to see a doctor
While coughing up sputum may be a way of getting rid of infections, the phlegm colour also matters.
Sputum colour can show when you are healthy or having a serious lung infection.
If you notice any symptoms like persistent coughing, coughing up brown, pink, black, yellow or green sputum that persist over time, see your doctor.
Treatments for phlegm coughs
If you have noticed an increase in mucus production, or that you are coughing up black, green or brown phlegm that persists, seek medical attention.
Treatment will depend on the cause of your ailment. If lifestyle or exposure to hazardous environments is the cause, quit them.
In case it is cancer or serious bacterial infection, contact your doctor.
If it is a viral infection, make use of home remedies such as.
- Taking hot fluids
- Using honey and lime juice
- Gargling with salt water
- Using a humidifier
- You can also use over-the-counter expectorants like delsym to soothe the sputum.
The bottom line
Phlegm is part of your airways as it helps soften and protect the lungs.
If you notice an increase in mucus production, or brown, black or yellow sputum that is getting worse, contact your doctor.