Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI — By Ashley Marcin — Updated on February 7, 2022

Phlegm is a type of mucus made in your chest. You typically don’t produce noticeable amounts of phlegm unless you are sick with a cold or have some other underlying medical issue. When you cough up phlegm, it’s called sputum. You may notice different colored sputum và wonder what the colors mean.

Here’s your guide lớn different conditions that produce phlegm, why it might be different colors, và when you should see a doctor.

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green or yellowbrownwhiteblackclearred or pink
allergic rhinitis
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
congestive heart failure
cystic fibrosis
fungal infection
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
lung abscess
lung cancer
pulmonary embolism

If you see green or yellow phlegm, it’s usually a sign that your body is fighting an infection. The color comes from trắng blood cells. At first, you may notice yellow phlegm that then progresses into green phlegm. The change occurs with the severity & length of the potential sickness.

Green or yellow phlegm is commonly caused by:

You may also consider this màu sắc “rusty” in appearance. The màu sắc brown often means old blood. You may see this color after your phlegm appears red or pink.

Brown phlegm is commonly caused by:

You may experience trắng phlegm with several health conditions.

White phlegm is commonly caused by:

Viral bronchitis. This condition may start off with trắng phlegm, indicating a viral infection. However, this can lead to lớn a secondary bacterial infection that will produce green or yellow phlegm.

Seek immediate medical attention if you’re having difficulty breathing.

Black sputum is also called melanoptysis. Seeing đen phlegm may mean you have inhaled a high amount of something black, lượt thích coal dust. It may also mean you have a fungal infection that needs medical attention.

Black phlegm is commonly caused by:

Pneumoconiosis. One type in particular, đen lung disease, may cause đen sputum. It mostly affects coal workers or anyone else who has frequent exposure lớn coal dust. Coughing up đen sputum may also be accompanied by shortness of breath.

Your body produces clear mucus và phlegm on a daily basis. This phlegm is mostly filled with water, protein, antibodies, and some dissolved salts khổng lồ help lubricate & moisturize your respiratory system.

An increase in clear phlegm may mean that your toàn thân is trying to flush out an irritant, like pollen, or some type of virus.

Clear phlegm is commonly caused by:

Viral bronchitis. This is an inflammation in the bronchial tubes in your lungs. It begins with clear or white phlegm và coughing. In some cases, if a secondary bacterial infection sets it, you may find that the phlegm progress to a yellow or green color.
What does red or pink phlegm mean?

Blood is likely the cause of any shade of red phlegm. Pink is considered another shade of red, so it may also indicate that there is blood in your phlegm, just less of it.

Red or pink phlegm is commonly caused by:

Contact your doctor if you’re producing more phlegm than normal, having intense coughing spells, or notice other symptoms lượt thích weight loss or fatigue.

What if the phlegm texture changes?

The consistency of your phlegm can change due lớn many reasons. The scale ranges from mucoid (frothy) và mucopurulent to purulent (thick and sticky). Your phlegm may get thicker & darker as an infection progresses. It may also be thicker in the morning or if you are dehydrated.

Clear phlegm that’s associated with allergies is generally not as thick or sticky as the green sputum you see with bacterial bronchitis or the black phlegm from a fungal infection.

What does frothy phlegm mean?

Moving beyond colors now: Is your phlegm frothy? Another word for this texture is “mucoid.” White và frothy phlegm may be another sign of COPD. A secondary bacterial infection may also occur, which may change the phlegm to lớn yellow or green.

Is it both pink và frothy? This combination may mean you are experiencing congestive heart failure in a late stage. If you have this condition along with extreme shortness of breath, sweating, và chest pain, gọi your local emergency services immediately.

When to liên hệ your doctor

While phlegm is a normal part of the respiratory system, it’s not normal if it’s affecting your everyday life. It may be time to gọi your doctor if you notice it in your airways, throat, or if you start coughing it up.

If your sputum is clear, yellow, or green, you may be OK to wait a few days or even weeks before making an appointment. Still keep watch over your other symptoms lớn see how your illness is progressing.

If you see any shade of red, brown, or black phlegm, or are experiencing frothy sputum, make an appointment right away. This may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.

It can be difficult lớn self-diagnose what type of lung issue you’re having. A doctor can perform a variety of tests, including X-rays và sputum analyses, to lớn determine the cause.

If you’re not sure what’s causing the change in màu sắc or are experiencing other unusual symptoms, tương tác your doctor.

Learn more: Sputum culture »

How lớn get rid of sputum

There are times when phlegm is a reason to điện thoại tư vấn your doctor right away. Some phlegm-causing conditions respond best khổng lồ antibiotics, other medications, and breathing treatments. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.

Some of the conditions on this danh mục are viral. That means they don’t respond to antibiotics. Instead, you simply need khổng lồ eat well, hydrate, và rest to heal.

You can also try measures like:

Using a humidifier in your home. Keeping the air moist can help loosen phlegm and allow you to cough it up more easily.Gargling with salt water. set a cup of warm water with 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of salt, and gargle to lớn loosen any mucus from allergies or a sinus infection that’s affecting your throat.Taking over-the-counter expectorants. Medications lượt thích guaifenesin (Mucinex) thin your mucus so it flows more freely and you can more easily cough it up. This medication comes in formulations for adults & children.
The bottom line

Phlegm is produced by your respiratory system as protection for your lungs. Unless you have an underlying medical condition, you may not notice your sputum. You may only cough it up if you are sick or develop a chronic lung disease.

If you do cough it up, pay attention lớn its appearance. If you notice a change in color, consistency, or volume, liên hệ your doctor khổng lồ make an appointment.

Read this article in Spanish.

Last medically reviewed on February 7, 2022

How we vetted this article:

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Current Version

Feb 7, 2022

Edited By

John Bassham

Medically Reviewed By

Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI

Copy Edited By

Sara Giusti

Mar 15, 2017

Edited By

Frank Crooks

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Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI — By Ashley Marcin — Updated on February 7, 2022

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