Home Health Yellow, Brown, Green, and More: What Does the Color of Phlegm Mean?

Yellow, Brown, Green, and More: What Does the Color of Phlegm Mean?

The phlegm that comes out of a person’s mouth is of different colors and this is not meaningless. Each color of phlegm is always accompanied by the meaning of the underlying cause of the appearance of the phlegm. What does yellow, brown, green, white, clear phlegm mean? If you’re curious, here’s an article that will explain what each color of phlegm means.

Phlegm is mucus made in the chest or in the respiratory system. This new phlegm is produced when you experience pain such as colds and other medical problems. When you cough up phlegm, you may notice different colors, and of course you wonder “why is your phlegm changing color or different colors”. It turns out that each color has a certain meaning of health.

What Does the Color of Phlegm Mean?

Here we make your guide to understand the meaning of phlegm of each color. Why the color of phlegm is different and when you should see a doctor for treatment.

What Does the Color of Phlegm Mean

1. What does green or yellow phlegm mean?

If you find that your phlegm is yellow or green, then this is a sign that you are fighting an infection in your respiratory system. See our article: causes of green phlegm. The cause of the yellow or green color is from the white blood cells themselves because those involved in fighting infection are white blood cells. Initially your phlegm is white or yellowish and then develops green and this indicates the severity of your health condition.

The cause of yellow and green phlegm is the result of diseases you suffer from such as bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and cystic fibrosis. Let’s look in more detail below:

  1. Bronchitis. This is a health condition that starts with a dry cough, and then turns into a cough with phlegm. Initially the phlegm that comes out is clear, white, then becomes yellow or becomes green or greenish yellow. This indicates that bronchitis is starting to develop. Coughs can usually last quite a long time if not treated and your immune system is weak. Sometimes a cough can last up to 90 days.
  2. Pneumonia. This is inflammation of the lungs that occurs due to complications of respiratory disease with other diseases. With pneumonia, sometimes you cough up phlegm with yellow, green, or sometimes bloody phlegm. Symptoms of coughing up phlegm differ according to the type of pneumonia you are suffering from. Among the common symptoms are cough, fever, chills, and shortness of breath.
  3. Sinusitis. Sinusitis is a disease due to infection in the sinuses, this is caused by viruses, bacteria, and allergies. In sinusitis you can also experience coughing up green or yellow phlegm, you also experience nasal congestion, postnasal drip, and pressure in the sinus cavities.
  4. Cystic fibrosis. Another cause of a green or yellow cough is cystic fibrosis. It is a chronic lung disease in which fluid builds up in parts of the lungs. This disease is common in young adults and children. The effect of this disease is the color of your phlegm which is yellow and turns green and even brown.

2. What does brown phlegm mean?

There is also phlegm with a brown or rusty color visually. You sometimes see phlegm like this after bloody phlegm that appears red or pink.

Causes of brown phlegm are:

  1. Bacterial pneumonia. If you are suffering from pneumonia, then chances are your phlegm will be brownish green or rusty in color.
  2. Bacterial bronchitis. Bronchitis can also produce brown phlegm over time as bronchitis progresses. Brown phlegm can also be the result of chronic bronchitis and often even if the condition is chronic, this is a condition that develops in smokers or those who are frequently exposed to cigarette smoke (passive smoking).
  3. Cystic fibrosis. This is a chronic lung disease and one of the health conditions that can also cause you to have brown phlegm.
  4. Pneumoconiosis. Inhaling harmful dusts such as coal dust or asbestos dust can also cause you to have brown phlegm. Inhaling this dust can cause chronic and fatal pneumonia.
  5. Lung abscess. Lung abscess is a disease that eats away at the lungs, the lungs of people with this disease are hollow filled with pus, usually surrounded by inflamed and infected tissue. Abscess conditions are often accompanied by night sweats, coughing, loss of appetite, and possibly brown phlegm. The brown phlegm that comes from a person with a lung abscess also has a foul odor.

Check out more:

3. What does white phlegm mean?

In addition to yellow, green and brown phlegm, there is also a possibility that someone’s phlegm is white. What causes phlegm to be white?

White phlegm is generally caused by:

  1. Viral bronchitis. This is a condition that may produce white phlegm in its initial phase, and is a sign of a viral infection. This infection can cause further development of a greenish-yellow sputum.
  2. GERD. This is a disease of the digestive system or intestines and this can cause a cough that produces white phlegm (white sputum).
  3. COPD. This is a health condition that causes your airways to narrow and your lungs to fill with mucus. This makes your body release oxygen and produce white phlegm.
  4. Congestive heart failure. Heart failure is a condition when a person’s heart can no longer pump blood effectively, so fluid accumulates in different areas, causing edema. When this fluid collects in the lungs, you experience shortness of breath and white phlegm.

If you experience difficulty breathing as in the case of congestive heart failure, then seek medical help immediately.

4. What does black phlegm mean?

There’s also black phlegm, that sounds horrible! This condition of black phlegm is also known as melanoptysis. If you cough up black phlegm then you most likely have inhaled a large amount of something black. For example, you have inhaled a large amount of coal smoke, but it is also the result of a yeast infection and this needs serious medical attention.

Black phlegm is usually caused by:

  1. Smoking. Smoking can cause black phlegm, apart from smoking crack cocaine, it also causes black phlegm.
  2. Pneumoconiosis. There is a type of black lung disease and this condition causes your phlegm to be black. Usually this condition occurs in those who work in coal factories or anyone who is frequently exposed to coal dust.
  3. Fungal infection. Fungi can also cause infections that make you have to cough up black phlegm. This black fungus infection is called “Exophiala dermatitidis” and this is the cause of the infection. This condition often occurs in those with cystic fibrosis.

5. What does clear phlegm mean?

Another color of phlegm is clear or clear mucus, mostly filled with water, antibodies and protein. There is also a dissolved salt content that makes it slippery and moistens the respiratory tract.

If you produce clear phlegm, this means that your body is fighting an irritant, it is releasing irritants such as pollen, and some types of viruses.

What causes clear phlegm?

  1. Allergic rhinitis. It is more famous for nasal allergies which sometimes cause fever. Your body produces more nasal mucus, a condition that occurs after exposure to allergens such as grass, pollen, and weeds. This clear mucus causes you to experience post nasal and develop into a cough with clear phlegm.
  2. Viral bronchitis. This medical condition occurs due to inflammation in the bronchial tubes in a person’s lungs. This problem starts with clear or white phlegm and coughing. In certain cases if there is a second infection caused by bacteria, your phlegm can turn yellow or green.
  3. Viral pneumonia. This is a pneumonia disease that occurs in the lungs. Among the early symptoms of pulmonary pneumonia are fever, muscle aches, dry cough, and other flu-like symptoms. Sputum that comes out is sometimes also clear.

What does red or pink phlegm mean?

There is also red or pink phlegm, maybe you have never experienced it, but look at the causes so that you avoid red phlegm. It seems that blood is the cause of coughing up red phlegm. Pink is another color, but it also refers to the presence of blood in the phlegm but in less amount.

Red or pink phlegm is caused by:

  1. Pneumonia. This disease has symptoms such as chills, fever, cough, chest pain, and this can produce phlegm with a red color.
  2. Tuberculosis. If you cough continuously and more than 3 weeks you could possibly suffer from tuberculosis. This disease can produce bloody or red phlegm. TB can be transmitted from one person to another at close range even if they are not touched.
  3. Congestive heart failure (CHF). This is a disease that occurs when your heart can no longer effectively pump blood around the body. This condition not only allows you to have red or pink phlegm but is also accompanied by shortness of breath.
  4. Pulmonary embolism. This is a disease that occurs when the pulmonary arteries located in the lungs are blocked. This usually occurs due to a blood clot from somewhere in the leg. As a result, there is red phlegm or phlegm mixed with blood. Pulmonary embolism is a dangerous and life-threatening disease, you can also experience shortness of breath accompanied by chest pain.
  5. Lung cancer. Lung cancer not only causes various symptoms of poor breathing but also causes coughing up of red phlegm or phlegm accompanied by blood.

What if the phlegm texture changes?

The thickness of phlegm can vary for various reasons. sometimes your phlegm is mucoid (foamy), mucopurulent (thick) to fluffier (sticky). If an infection develops, your phlegm will usually be darker and thicker. It can also be thicker when you are dehydrated or in the morning.

The texture of clear phlegm is usually more liquid and not as thick or sticky as green phlegm or yellow phlegm.

What does frothy phlegm mean?

Frothy sputum is also known as mucoid. If your phlegm is white and frothy, this may be another sign of COPD. If there is a secondary or second infection, the phlegm may also turn yellow or green.

Is your phlegm frothy and red or pink in color? If this combination occurs, then you may have end-stage congestive heart failure. If you experience this condition along with extreme shortness of breath, chest pain, sweating, then immediately contact your local emergency health service to get the best help.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Phlegm is indeed a normal thing to happen, but if this phlegm makes you uncomfortable and interferes with activities then this is no longer normal and it’s time for you to visit a doctor.

If the phlegm that you secrete is yellow, clear, green, maybe you can still wait a few days or weeks to see how your health is progressing before you make an appointment with your doctor. But be careful, always pay attention to whether there are other symptoms and signs that occur.

But it’s different if you see that your phlegm is red, brown, or black in color or frothy, then immediately make an appointment with a specialist. This is likely from a more serious health condition.

We find it difficult to know or detect what disease is occurring. A doctor will perform various tests including X-rays, sputum analysis, to be able to determine the cause of your red, brown, or black phlegm.

How To Get Rid of Sputum

Phlegm sometimes does not cause more serious problems, sometimes it can be treated with antibodies, sometimes it can be cured with breathing media, or with adequate rest while increasing the body’s immunity. Sometimes there are also phlegm conditions that must be treated seriously and even surgical treatment.

Some of these phlegm conditions occur as a result of a viral infection, so what you have to do is get enough rest, eat healthy food, drink healthy, keep your body hydrated.

In addition, you can also try phlegm treatment with the following steps:

  • Using a humidifier at home to make it easier for you to expel phlegm.
  • Gargling with warm salt water can also loosen mucus in the throat
  • Using eucalyptus oil is a natural treatment system that has long been used to get rid of phlegm.
  • You can also try an over-the-counter medication, such as guaifenesin (Mucinex), this will lighten your mucus and make it easier for it to be expelled from your respiratory system.

If you use drugs that are sold freely, always consult with a drug expert first.