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Coughing Up Phlegm

Coughing Up Phlegm

A cough accompanied by green, or yellow phlegm, in the actual, is a sign of lung infection. The infection may lead to coughing up phlegm every morning, or after eating, which may continue for months. The following article throws light on various causes and treatment for the same.
Kanika Khara
Last Updated: May 30, 2018
Coughing is a reflex response occurring due to stimulation of the sensory nerves in the inner lining of the respiratory passages. It usually occurs due to blockage in the respiratory passages by inhaling dust particles in the air, or when a morsel of food goes down through the wrong passage. Phlegm or mucus is a thick, jelly-like fluid coughed up from the throat.

The word 'phlegm' comes from the Greek word phlegma, which stands for coughing out the mucus that has accumulated in the throat region. However, mucus is a part of our body's natural immune response that helps in eliminating invaders from our body. When mucus is expelled from the body through coughing or sneezing, quite often, the invader, too, gets ejected with it.

Phlegm: Telling by the Color
  • Clear Phlegm: In its original color, phlegm is white. Clear, or yellow mucus appears during the initial stages of illness, or if it is a minor condition. This is the stage when the body tries to wash away the invader. Chronic bronchitis, postnasal drip, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are some of the conditions, which characterize the ejection of yellow-colored sputum. Clear phlegm may indicate infection; however, serious illness may not be diagnosed through phlegm color alone. Smoking and excessive alcohol, too, aggravate the condition.
  • Yellow Phlegm: It may be possible that the phlegm may change its consistency and color depending on the stage of the condition. Yellow mucus is seen in case of a bacterial infection, lower respiratory tract infection, sinusitis, cold, or flu. Know that it is the accumulation of inflammatory cells that produce a thick, yellow mucus. Besides, the ejection of phlegm becomes very painful and uncomfortable, especially when it thickens.
  • Green Phlegm: When a bacterial infection, such as tuberculosis, or postnasal drip is diagnosed, green phlegm is partially the indicator. Flush the toxins from the system by drinking water, and reduce the intake of meat to help fight the condition better. Besides, a hot water bath will relieve the system from deep within.
  • Phlegm with Blood: Blood may appear in the sputum if you smoke excessively, or are exposed to pollution. Besides, coughing up phlegm with blood indicates that there is severe congestion in the respiratory passages, or minor damage to the tissue of the sinus and nasal cavities. However, phlegm with traces of blood must be attended to without delay, as it may be the indicator of an impending health problem. To err on the side of caution, consult a medical practitioner immediately.

Know the Causes
  • Common cold, ... a frequent cause of acute coughing up of phlegm, especially in the morning.

  • Allergies ... due to irritants, like dust, pet dander, chemical fumes, etc.

  • Smoking ... causes coughing of phlegm that is green, rusty-brown, yellow, blood-stained, or foul-smelling.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux, ... or bacterial, or viral infections in the lungs, like acute bronchitis, whooping cough, and croup in children.

  • Asthma ... is marked by major symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and dyspneal breathing. Phlegm is coughed out with much difficulty due to which your throat may experience momentary irritation and/or aggravation.

  • Tuberculosis ... leads to episodes marked by a spasmodic pattern of coughing. Directly affecting the pulmonary system, the cough is thick in consistency and varies in color depending on the severity of the condition. In the prodromal stages of the condition, a patient is found to eject yellow phlegm; however, if the condition is not checked on time, the sputum color may change to green, or may be stained with traces of blood.

  • Cystic Fibrosis ... is another condition that affects the pulmonic health of the body, marked by severe episodes of coughing. The lungs being filled with mucus create a form of occlusion in the air channels.

Symptomatic Treatment
  • Treatment for coughing up mucus mainly depends on the symptoms diagnosed by the doctor during physical examinations or tests, like a chest X-ray, blood tests, sputum examination, ECG, and CT exam.
  • Expectorants and mucolytics are usually prescribed as they help in breaking up mucus or phlegm, hence making it easier to cough up.
  • Homeopathic treatments, like Kali mur, Kali sulph, and Kali bich help to control mucus production, soothe a blocked chest, and relieve coughing without any side effects. They are highly effective, suit people of all ages, and encourage the body's healing response.

Helpful Natural Remedies
Inhaling steam from a tub of boiling water, or having a hot shower helps in loosening the mucus in the throat and sinus congestion.
Drinking lots of water, or at least seven or eight glasses of water everyday loosens phlegm. As far as possible, it is best to consume warm water for faster relief from phlegm.
Dairy products, meat, or fried foods increase mucus production in the body, hence they should be avoided.
Using a humidifier, or cool mist vaporizer at night, especially in winters loosens the phlegm in the throat. Adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a vaporizer also helps in relieving chest congestion.
Restrict exposure to allergens, like dust, household cleaners, paint fumes, chemicals, certain perfumes, etc.
Quit smoking as it worsens the respiratory conditions. After quitting, the patient may observe tremendous reduction in phlegm production and respiratory congestion.
Gargling with salt water accompanied with, or without turmeric will help in soothing the air passages as well as the throat.
Coughing up phlegm can also be treated by having lemon green tea, or chicken soup as it helps in thinning the mucus and relieving respiratory congestion.

Though mucus can be extremely irritating, one should be careful about not drying it too much as it is an essential part of the body's immune system. As far as possible, it is not recommended that one uses over-the-counter cough suppressants, as it may not be the right remedy to relieve your condition.

Disclaimer: The article published herein, is meant to accomplish pedagogical purposes only. The recommendations mentioned hereby may not be generically applicable. The information, by no means, intends to supplant the diagnosis and advice imparted by the medical practitioner.