Phlegm is a type of mucus that is present in your lungs and lower airways. When we are healthy, it is not produced in large quantities, and can even go unnoticed.

This type of mucus, although it is annoying, has an important function as a means of defense of the respiratory tract , preventing the entry of germs and other foreign materials that could make us sick.

Other areas of the body that also secrete mucus are the gastrointestinal tract (intestines) and the upper respiratory tract (nose, mouth, and throat). You should know that the color or consistency of nasal discharge cannot be relied upon (1) to distinguish viral from bacterial infections.

Phlegm is usually clear and thin, but when we get sick with a cold or infection, the mucus can thicken and change color. The phlegm that occurs when you cough is called sputum and it can have different colors. Have you ever wondered what each color means?

In this guide we will explain the types of phlegm and why they can be of different colors, we will also indicate when you should go to the specialist.

Types of phlegm and their meaning

The color of the phlegm can give a lot of information about the condition you have, helping the doctor to better diagnose the origin of the disease.

Clear phlegm

The clear sputum is normal, contains water, salts, antibodies and other immune system cells. It is formed in the respiratory tract and most of it goes down the throat to be later ingested, helping in the lubrication and hydration of the respiratory tract.

An increase in clear phlegm may indicate the body’s response to the presence of an irritant such as pollen or some type of virus, for example, allergic rhinitis.

Brown or brown phlegm

The phlegm brown coffee can indicaruna possible bleeding, often means old blood, however, it can also be caused by other chronic diseases such as bacterial pneumonia, bacterial bronchitis, cystic and abscess pulmonary fibrosis which produce sputum rusty brown as advances disease.

Pneumoconiosis, another disease of the respiratory system that occurs from inhaling different dusts such as coal, asbestos, and silicosis can cause brown phlegm as well.

Another characteristic of this phlegm is that it can appear in smokers and have mixtures of cigarette resins.

Bloody phlegm

The red or pink phlegm indicate lapresencia blood, there are many reasons that can cause anything from a lot of coughing up a respiratory infection.

These types of bloody phlegm occur because small blood vessels in the lungs or airways break and bleed. On certain occasions they may indicate the presence of a more serious disease.

Some of the diseases that cause red or pink phlegm and also difficulty in breathing are commonly: tuberculosis, congestive heart failure, pulmonary embolism, lung cancer among others.

Black phlegm

Also known as melanoptysis , if you have phlegm of this color it may be because you have inhaled charcoal or you have a fungal infection caused by a black yeast called Exophiala dermatitidis , which needs medical attention.

Pneumoconiosis caused by coal dust mainly affects coal miners.

Yellow or green phlegm

The presence of both types of phlegm suggests that the cells of your immune system are attacking an infection or inflammatory process. As they continue to fight the infection, the white blood cells are taken up by the mucus, giving it a yellowish tinge that then progresses to green, the color change occurs depending on the severity and duration of the disease.

It can be frequently caused by the common cold, bronchitis, pneumonia or sinusitis, the color comes from the white blood cells.

If you notice that you are producing more phlegm than normal, you have a severe cough or some other unusual symptom such as weight loss or tiredness to breathe you should consult your doctor.

Changes in the texture of phlegm

While it is true that identifying the types of phlegm is important to help determine the origin of some respiratory diseases, its texture is no less relevant, since it can also change for many reasons.

It can be frothy to sticky and thick, clear phlegm associated with allergies is not as thick and sticky as the green phlegm from bacterial pneumonia.

As for the phlegm with blood and foamy texture, they are characteristic of congestive heart failure in an advanced stage. If you have this type of phlegm and you also have difficulty breathing, sweating or chest pain, you should go to the emergency room immediately.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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