Coughing up Mucus

What do you mean by coughing up mucus?

When a persistent cough is accompanied by phlegm or mucus, it could mean the development of an infection in the lungs. The mucus or phlegm can vary in consistency and color and may even contain blood. There can be various causes and treatments of this disease, depending on the different factors related to it.
The phlegm is produced in the mucous layer of the windpipe and is coughed up from the throat.

Causes for coughing up mucus

The cause for coughing up mucus can be determined by the color of the mucus. Usually, the different colors of mucus that an individual can cough up are:
• White or grey mucus
• Green or dark yellow mucus
• Brown mucus
• Clear mucus
• Bloody mucus

White or Grey Mucus

Coughing up grey or white mucus can be a sign of an upper respiratory infection, sinus congestion.
Viral bronchitis may also cause a person to cough up white mucus, however, as the virus progresses, the phlegm will turn to green or yellow.
GERD is a chronic digestive system condition which can cause a person to cough up thick, white mucus.
COPD is also a condition which causes a person’s airways to narrow. This causes the lungs to produce excess mucus.
Congestive heart failures can also cause fluids to build up in different areas, causing an edema. This occurs when a person’s heart is not effectively pumping blood to the rest of the body. This results in a build-up of fluids and an increase in the production of white mucus.

Treatment for coughing up white or grey mucus

1. steam inhalation
2. Gargling with warm water adding salt to it
3. consuming certain foods that can help bring out the mucus for clearing out easily such as honey, bell peppers, ginger, garlic, etc.
4. Cough syrups
5. staying hydrated

Green or Dark Yellow Mucus

The thick, green or dark yellow mucus can be caused due to a viral infection, bacterial infection, sinus infection or a lower respiratory tract infection. This occurs as a natural defense system of the body when the immune system of the body sends white blood cells to the area of infection to heal it. These cells contain a green protein which causes the mucus to turn green or dark yellow.

The other common causes of green or dark yellow phlegm can be:

Bronchitis – while typically this starts off with a white mucus formation, as the virus develops, the mucus turns green or dark yellow. This is a sign that the infection is turning from a viral to bacterial infection.

Pneumonia – some of the symptoms of pneumonia can cause the mucus to turn dark yellow, green or even bloody in color.

Sinus infection – This can also cause a persons mucus to turn green or dark yellow, and cause symptoms such as nasal congestion, the pressure in sinus cavities and also post nasal drip.

Cystic fibrosis – this is a condition which causes mucus to build up in a person’s lungs. It is a chronic lung disease which can affect both children as well as adults.

Treatment for coughing up green or yellow mucus

1. hot water bags on the chest to loosen up the green phlegm for easy expulsion.
2. A hot bath, adding eucalyptus oil to the bath as it helps clear congestion
3. avoiding dairy products, meat, and milk as these might make clearing up the phlegm more difficult.
4. Avoiding dust and allergens like smoke, fumes, pollen, etc.
5. using a humidifier, as dry throats can aggravate the phlegm.
6. drinking plenty of warm liquids to clear up the congestion.

Brown Mucus

More often than not, brown mucus can mean the presence of old blood. Usually, smokers tend to experience brown mucus with the formation of a lot of salivae and a grainy texture. Due to the presence of resin, tar and other chemicals in cigarettes, often, excessive smokers will experience brown phlegm, which the body is trying to cough up and expel.
Sometimes, excessive consumption of coffee, red wine and chocolates may also cause brown mucus to occur.

The other causes of brown phlegm can be:

Bacterial pneumonia – This form of pneumonia can often cause phlegm which is brown or rust colored.

Bacterial bronchitis – This condition can cause a person to develop rusty brown phlegm as the condition progresses. This condition can develop as a person is excessively exposed to smoke, fumes and other irritants.

Cystic fibrosis – This is a chronic lung condition which can cause the build-up of mucus in the color of rusty, brown.

Lung abscess – This condition refers to a cavity inside a person’s lung which gets filled with pus. The area and tissues surrounding it can become infected and inflamed. This condition can often cause a person to cough up rusty, brown colored mucus.

Treatment for coughing up brown mucus

1. Consuming a ginger and honey mixture with warm water
2. Consuming ground up with pepper with honey for instant relief
3. Honey and lemon mixture
4. Avoid smoking completely and exposure to other kinds of chemicals, fumes, and smoke
5. Increasing water intake to stay hydrated
6. Steam inhalation

Clear Mucus

Every human being’s body produces a normal amount of mucus on an everyday basis to remove pollutants, dirt, irritants, and to moisturize and lubricate the person’s respiratory system. However, an excess production of clear mucus can mean that the body is trying to clear out an irritant or a virus.

Some of the other causes of clear phlegm can be:

Allergic rhinitis – Also known as hay fever or pollen allergy, the body can often produce an excess of clear phlegm when exposed to weeds, pollen, grass, and other allergens. This condition may cause a post nasal drip as well as coughing up of clear phlegm.

Viral bronchitis – Due to inflammation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs, the body can produce a clear mucus during coughing.

Viral pneumonia – Another type of pneumonia caused by an infection in the lungs can cause the production of clear white mucus while coughing.

Treatment for coughing up clear mucus

1. steam inhalation to loosen up the mucus
2. Gargling with salt water
3. drinking lemon juice
4. having ginger and honey
5. having turmeric with hot milk in the morning
6. keeping yourself hydrated
7. taking hot steam or shower
8. Having cloves and honey

Bloody Mucus

Pink or red mucus can mean the presence of blood in the mucus. Pink phlegm can just mean that there are lesser amounts of blood in the mucus.

Other causes of bloody phlegm can be:

Lung cancer – This condition can cause patients to cough up blood, red phlegm.

Pulmonary embolism – when the pulmonary artery in the lung gets blocked or clotted, the blood clot can travel to any other part of the body. This can cause a person to cough up bloody red phlegm.

Congestive heart failure – This can happen when the heart is not effectively pumping blood to a person’s body. This can cause a person to develop bloody phlegm.

Tuberculosis – This condition is easily transferred from person to person within close quarters. This can cause bloody red phlegm to develop.

Pneumonia – This condition can cause bloody red phlegm to develop in a patients body.

Treatment for coughing up bloody mucus

1. Avoid smoking completely
2. Warm milk with honey should be consumed as it helps keep you hydrated as well as acts as a relief for an irritated throat
3. Drinking plenty of fluids to flush out the phlegm from the system
4. Ginger juice mixed with honey can be consumed to clear out phlegm


• Acute coughing
• Shortness of breath
• Dizziness
• Nausea
• Fever and chills
• Weight loss
• Sore throat
• Runny nose
• Heartburn
• Difficulty in swallowing or coughing while swallowing


• Inhalation of steam or vapor from a boiling hot tub which can loosen up the mucus and sinuses, giving relief from congestion.
• Keeping the person hydrated with a lot of water to loosen up the mucus or phlegm.
• Avoid eating foods which can increase production of mucus, such as dairy products, meats, fried foods.
• Drinking hot liquids such as tea, soups, and other hot beverages which can help loosen up the phlegm and easy expelling of mucus.
• Limit the exposure to irritants such as smoke, fumes, chemicals, dust, dirt, allergens, etc.
• Gargling with salt water can also help in loosing up the mucus and allow a person to expel it easily.
• Using essential oils such as eucalyptus oil on the chest can help in loosing up the mucus.
• A spoonful of honey taken orally can also be extremely helpful in getting rid of mucus and even preventing it to a limit.

Other related/linked diseases:

• Chronic cough
• Asthma
• Bronchitis
• Lung cancer
• Chronic lung infections
• Lower respiratory tract infection
• Pulmonary embolism
• Pneumonia
• Tuberculosis
• Cystic fibrosis
• Lung abscess

When should you see a doctor?

If a patient is having a persistent cough for more than 2 weeks, or they are experiencing a fever of over 101, with wheezing and coughing up dark yellow or green mucus, it is important to see a doctor about the condition. The other symptoms which indicate that you should see a doctor are:
• Coughing up blood
• Severe difficulty in breathing
• Swollen face
• Severe hives
• Chest pains
• Have fevers
• Experience shortness of breath


• Cigarette smoking
• Cold air
• Weather changes
• Exposure to pollen, dust, allergens, and irritants
• Low humidity
• Viral infections
• Chemicals and cleaners

Diagnosis and Prognosis

A test known as routine sputum culture done in laboratories can be helpful when diagnosing a patient who is coughing up mucus. The bacteria or fungi which are causing the production of mucus in the lungs is studied in the laboratory. This test can help in finding the cause of the illness and coughing up of mucus.

Risk Factors

Smoking – Both current, as well as former smokers, are at higher risks of developing these symptoms related to coughing up mucus. Second-hand smoking can also develop the factors.
Allergies – Exposure to certain allergens can often trigger the coughing up of mucus in patients
Chronic lung disease -Those who are suffering from chronic lung diseases are at a higher risk of developing a cough with the expelling of mucus
Environmental factors – People who work in high-risk environments with exposure to smoke, fumes and other chemicals and pollutants are at a higher risk of developing coughing symptoms with mucus.


Taking an over the counter cough expectorant can help in getting rid of a cough with mucus.
Nasal irrigation can also be helpful in getting rid of excessive mucus.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I be worried if I am coughing up mucus?

While it is can be due to the side effects of a cold and cough, if you are persistently coughing up mucus with chest pains and throat soreness, it can be a reason for concern.

Does drinking dairy products cause coughing up of mucus?

Drinking milk and other dairy products is not directly related to coughing up of mucus, however, it does make it harder to expel the mucus.

How can you cough up mucus for a test?

Hold your breath for 2 to 3 seconds, and use your stomach muscles to forcefully expel air, which will cause the mucus to expel with your cough.

Last updated on March 16th, 2018 at 8:37 pm

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