Coughing Up Phlegm (Sputum, Mucus) – Clear, Green, Yellow and with Blood

Are you coughing up phlegm and thinking that you are suffering from common cold? Watch out, for you may be having something more serious.

What is Phlegm?

The term ‘Phlegm’ comes from the Greek word ‘phlegma’ meaning inflammation. It actually means the mucus that gets accumulated in your throat and needs to be coughed out. It is a watery substance, often viscous, that varies in color and quantity depending on the sickness you are suffering from. It is produced in the mucous layer of the trachea (windpipe).

In medical terms, phlegm is known as sputum or expectorated matter, meaning coughed out substance.

Coughing Up Phlegm

When the body suffers from an infection or disorder, it causes an accumulation of phlegm in the throat. The mucus irritates the air passage and creates discomfort in the sufferer. It triggers cough which expels the mucus.

Phlegm is normally white in color. A person starts coughing up white phlegm during minor ailments. Clear white phlegm indicates the absence of pus. But the mucus may also be colored. The color of the phlegm depends on the disease causing it. Smoking, infection, air pollution or presence of blood gives a rusty or brown color to the phlegm. Asthmatic patients cough up pink phlegm.

Coughing Up Clear Phlegm

A common cold caused by a general viral infection can lead to allergic irritation of your respiratory organs and make you cough up clear phlegm. Other possible causes can be:

  • Postnasal Drip
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Smoking

The clear mucus is the initial attempt of the body to wash away the invading virus. Clear phlegm indicates the absence of blood in the mucus. It can be treated without the use of antibiotics.

Coughing Up Green Phlegm

This happens when there is a bacterial infection in the lungs or the bronchi, such as Tuberculosis. It can also happen because of a post nasal drip due to a sinus infection. It can be cured by avoiding dairy products, starchy foods and excessive meat intake. Drinking plenty of pure water and herbal teas, eating spicy foods and taking hot bath can work as effective home treatments.

Coughing Up Yellow Phlegm

Infections, allergies or asthma can lead to an inflammation of respiratory tract and lead to an accumulation of inflammatory cells or leukocytes in mucus. This can cause phlegm to turn yellow. Thick yellow phlegm is a sure sign of a bacterial or viral infection. People suffering acute or chronic cases of bronchitis or bacterial pneumonia often cough up thick yellow mucus.

Coughing Up Phlegm with Blood

Blood in mucus appears as red or brown spots. Bloody phlegm can be caused due to excessive smoking or high air pollution. This can also be an indication of some severe lung infection. If there is blood in phlegm, medical attention should be sought immediately.

Causes of Phlegm

There can be a number of factors behind the production of phlegm in the mucus membrane. These can be:

Common Cold

When you breathe in common cold virus, the body creates mucus as a natural reaction to safeguard your airways. This irritates the throat and you have to cough up phlegm to keep it clear. There is constant phlegm ejection through coughing. A person is generally seen coughing up clear phlegm in this case. If not treated in time, it can lead to chest congestion.

There is accumulation of phlegm in chest, which can make the patient suffer from breathing difficulties.


This happens when there is an inflammation of the main airways to the lungs. In patients with chronic bronchitis, excessive phlegm is produced which needs to be coughed out repeatedly. It continues for the most part of the month.

bronchitis pictures

Picture 1 – Bronchitis
Source –


This breathing disorder makes your lungs swell. Mucus is produced when the respiratory system is affected by germs like bacteria, virus or fungi.

pneumonia picture

Picture 2 – Pneumonia
Source –


It makes your air passages swell which results in wheezing and shortness of breath. Coughing is the main symptom of this disorder. Coughing leads to the expulsion of the phlegm from the throat and provides relief.


It mainly infects the lungs and results in excessive phlegm production. It leads to severe cough. Some patients are found to be coughing up yellow phlegm. Many are also seen coughing up green phlegm. In worst cases, the patient ends coughing up phlegm with blood.


When bacteria or viruses attack the body, the immune system makes an automatic response to block the foreign substances. Mucus production is one of these responses.

Cystic Fibrosis

This condition is caused by a genetic disorder. The air passages in the lungs are filled with sticky mucus that often leads to life-threatening complications.


This rare disorder makes the body vulnerable to bacterial infections and results in mucus accumulation in the throat.


Inhaling nicotine leads to inflammation of the respiratory organs. It also results in excessive phlegm production. There is secondary infection of lungs, sinuses and bronchi due to it.

Badly Ventilated or Toxic Areas

Working in dusty or toxic areas can make a person develop respiratory disorders. There is increased mucus production due to this.

Associated Symptoms

In some cases, coughing up phlegm is associated with abdominal bloating. This happens when a person swallows the mucus instead of coughing it out. The swallowed phlegm is degraded by the bacteria in the bowel. This produces gas and results in bloating of the stomach.

How to Cough Up Phlegm

When the mucus gets thick, it is very painful to cough it out. Thinned mucus is easier to expel. There are some home remedies that you can try to thin out the phlegm. Go through these suggestions and know how to get rid of phlegm at home :

  • Boil water in a bowl. Add in eucalyptus, menthol or mint. Inhale the steam deeply into your nostrils.
  • Drinking hot beverages like tea can work great. It is better if you drink teas containing mint or eucalyptus. It serves to make the mucus thin and also keep chest congestion at bay. You should also drink hot soup for the same purpose.
  • Apply warmth to your chest. Wrap a piece of cloth around a hot vessel and unwrap it to apply on your chest. Do this for several times to get immediate relief. If you are already coughing up phlegm, wrapping a hot towel around your neck can provide some respite. You can also buy a heating pad for this purpose.
  • Eating spicy foods can also help your mucus thin out naturally. Capsicum is a natural expectorant. Adding it into your diet can help you cough out phlegm more easily.
  • Gargling with salt water and spit it out. The mucus will come out of your upper throat providing temporary relief.
  • Taking a hot bath will also prove useful. You should breathe in steam deeply from the water.

Phlegm Treatment by Doctors

If you are suffering from persistent coughing that expels phlegm, you should consult your doctor. An expert medical practitioner will perform a thorough physical check-up. Normally, medical tests like blood and sputum examinations, ECG, CT scan and chest X-rays are conducted to diagnose the ailment behind the cough. This also helps the doctor to know if the patient is suffering from any serious disease like lung cancer or TB.

Curing phlegm accumulation is done by curing the disease causing it. Once the phlegm inducing disease is controlled, the mucus in the air passage is also reduced automatically.

Coughing up phlegm is common. But it can lead to serious complications if not treated in time. If the person suffers from severe ailments like a lung infection or cystic fibrosis, early treatment can help diagnose and cure the problem. Even phlegm accumulation due to common cold can cause chest congestion which can be harmful in very young children. So it is necessary to treat a patient coughing out phlegm as early as possible. You never know what may be causing the problem.

Published on November 25th 2010 by  under Lungs, Breathing and Respiration.
Article was last reviewed on 21st October 2016.

26 responses to “Coughing Up Phlegm (Sputum, Mucus) – Clear, Green, Yellow and with Blood”

  1. I don’t find anything about having a cough for more than 7 months. There is a lot of clear mucous and occasionally it includes a firmer, very tiny yellow ball of mucous. I went to a pulmonary specialist & an MD but it was before the cough sstarted to break up so neither one seemed to think it was anything too serious !

  2. I don’t find anything about having a cough for more than 7 months. There is a lot of clear mucous and occasionally it includes a firmer, very tiny yellow ball of mucous. I went to a pulmonary specialist & also to an MD but that was before the cough started to break up so neither one seemed to think it was anything too serious !

  3. Went to the Dr.on 5/11/2011 & have a cold & chronic bronchitis, he gave me an anti biotic AZITHROMYCIN 250mg, I am coughing up phlrgm with blood when I have coughing fits it started today ? It’s 2:10AM should I head out to the hospital emergency rm. ?

  4. Lee says:

    @Carolyn: I had a cough that lasted for about 8 months. They tried every test and treatment, it did eventually go away on its own (though Tesalon helped). After finishing renovations in the back of our house, I discovered we had a mold infestation. Sometimes it is an environmental trigger, so if it comes back again it is something you can watch for to try and figure out what is causing it. The root cause for me was too much rain.

  5. Hi, my sister has been coughing up flem for about a year now. She’s already been to two specialists both in which they didnt know what was wrong. She got antibiotics for asthma and a puffer, but it didnt work. She has coughed up a bit of blood she told me, and when she breathes it sounds really weezy. She also said that she could only breathe out of one nostril. Shes taken so much antibiotics, and we still dont know whats wrong with her! She has another appointment with a lung + airway specialist i think next week at some point. Please help my sister.

  6. brock says:

    Hi ,I’ve been having green phelgm and also chunks of blood for over a year coming up from the lungs ,its not from coughing! I’m mostly fatigued and dizzy and loose my balance a lot!! I’ve had few doctor appointments and they assume its chest infection and I tried to explain to the doctors I have a mould issue in my home and also a air con purifier that needs to have its filter replaced as it blows in black dust!! Any suggestions please.I’m getting stressed now about the blood! Many thanks b

  7. Beth says:

    I had a severe cough for over a year and still have it. After seeing many doctors and many test later it was concluded that my cough was neurogenic. Please look it up and see if it decribes you. There is also a video about neurogenic cough on You Tube. Since there is no cure, my doctor prescribes me tussionex and I will probably have to be on it the rest of my life. I’m just thankful we found out what it was and that this medicine gives me some relief. Good Luck to all you who suffer.

  8. Satish says:

    Hi i was suffering from TB, i took DOTS treatment for 6months. Upon Doctors advise i completed the period, but after 3 years again i suffered from the same disease then i took private treatment as advised by one of the famous doctor i took tablets for about 9 months, upon doctor’s confirmation i stopped taking tablets, but from past few days yellowish brown sputum is coming out… please advise!!!

  9. D says:

    BROCK- move or clean your home with bleach wear a mask. Change ur purifiers filter 4 times a year. Mold does not go away unless you treat it. Air ur home out. Move things from walls. Buy killez paint after bleaching walls. Replace carpet. All it takes is ne mold spore. Id suggest moving. Mold also lives ib porus drywall. Start swishing with salt water 2 times daily. Buy mucinex take it as labled. Lay at an angle while u sleep. Stop use of any fans while sleeping. Take vit c and b daily.

  10. lucy says:

    i live with my husbands grandmaw and her roof in the front of the house where we sleep was leaking when it rained i have got a bad cole 3 times with in 2 months so has my 8 month old baby which is not good at all

  11. hira says:

    hi,,i hv blood in sputum only in the morning no complain of cough i hv prob of allergic rhinitis..

  12. Cathy M says:

    Well People. Here it is, I’ve had this cough and phlegm for 4 years, thats right count it 4 years. and had every test there is to find out what is producing all this phelgm, no luck yet. Any idea’s pleae e-mail me, my pulmary had tried evrything he can think ok, and nothing. Even surgery on my nasal passage didn’t help. The only thing that seems to help is an antibotic, and that only last a couple of days. COPD NOPE, ASYTHMA NOPE, SINUS, NOPE CAT SCANS, SWALLOW TEST, TEST THE PHELGM, ALL THAT THEY CAN COME UP WITH IS A FUNGUS. So please if anyone has ANYTHING to say ANY SUGGESTIONS PLEASE FORWARD TO ME. THANKS,

  13. donna says:

    I have had a cough for years. I have gone to all kinds of doctors and have had all kinds of testing have spent thousands of dollars to find out why and i still cough. I also have a lot of clear phlyem. No one can give me any answers!!! If anyone has any suggestions please help Thanks. I cough every day and have for several years, at least for six years i have had this cough. Can someone help me!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. DWE says:

    My wife has had a cough for a month. Her mucus is loose where it can be heard rattle in her lungs. I tell her she is not coughing deep enough to expell the mucus. I think there should some information out on how to cough, with a lot of forceful air from the bottom of the lungs. If it is loose it will come out.

  15. missy says:

    i have been coughing up blood with white mucus its only started recently but i have been coughing up phlegm every morning for months???????

  16. Angie says:

    Every morning I wake up coughting green phlegm only in the mornings. What is wrong with me??? Thnak You!

  17. munirgardezi says:

    I am about 85 years old and a chronic patient of cough, cold and fever.Smoking is a regular habit for the last about 75 years. Now excessive clear flegm is being coughed out by me. I had stuffy nose for a long tim in my youth. Now this problem has subsided.Please help if possible.

  18. dreams1961 says:


    I was coughing up phlegm today along with diarrhea and vomiting.

    Its weird but after i eat something i start coughing and then the phlegm comes and I end.up vomiting.

    I have a stomach pain and camt.keep food down since i had a yogurt with fruit this morning.

  19. Loretta McCarthy says:

    I had a friend who developed a chronic cough, whicch turned out to be ALS.

  20. I cough and lot especially at night the Flem is clear

  21. Carol says:

    I have had a multi-coloured phlegmy cough for 9 months , had every test possible to man, including Heart tests , bronchoscopy, X-Ray, CT, Lung Function, 4 Puffers, Steriods, sputum tests, 7 different antibiotics, Chest Physio. No joy!! Cough sounds rattly and tastes like naphthalene (mothballs), I have shortness of breath and wheasing which feels like it is coming from the bottom of my breastbone. Has anyone had similar? Was there any light at the end of the tunnel?.

  22. Abdulhafeez nawwab says:

    Severe bouts of violent coughing with expectoration of phlegm associated with syncope and convulsions once only for the last one year having h/o diabetes , hypertension and gerd have quitted smoking 3 1/2 years back

  23. christopher moore says:

    iam coughing up clear phlegm but I have a stuffy nose and a runny nose iam taking mucinex and Flonase nothing seems to help should I go tot he doctor

  24. Anjen says:

    Coughing up yellow thick phlegm.
    Collapsed in Asda with instant sweats and nausea… constant runs when I eat but these are all the ME symptoms which I have and so everything is fobbed off as ME.
    M feel like I’m not getting enough oxygen and the fluid is round my chest and stomached. New doc not interested!

  25. MAVATOLE says:


  26. Dianne says:

    I have had phlegm of several colors. I have gone to the Doctors and she/he put me on meds. They put me on prednisone along with the antibiotic. I have been on 3 different antibiotics and after a few weeks I’m back coughing a lot. I am on a c-pap every time I sleep. I cough so much that I have to take it off and spit up the phlegm. I don’t know what else I can do. can you give me any advice on how to take care of this problem?

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