Coughing Up Green Or Yellow Mucus: What It Means
Coughing up green or yellow mucus usually means that you have some kind of a respiratory infection caused by a virus or bacteria. A yellow or greenish sputum is typical of the flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, or chest infection. Coughing up thick phlegm that is dark yellow or thick green can mean that the irritation is deep in your airways.
Coughing is usually the best way to expel thick yellow or green mucus from your airways. Some natural remedies can help to loosen phlegm and make coughing up the colorful sticky goop easier. For example, ginger tea has amazing antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory qualities that help to reduce the severity of respiratory infections.
You dont always need an antibiotic to treat thick yellow mucus because antibiotics dont work for viral infections. However, if a bronchial infection is due to bacterial bronchitis or bacterial pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to get rid of yellow mucus.
In this article, you will find out what bringing up yellow or green mucus means. You will also learn when green or yellow phlegm is a sign of an infection.
Other Causes Of Phlegm
Exposure to toxins or chemicals can make you produce more mucus. The lining of the airways become irritated and produce mucus to help clear away the pollutants. Over time smoking can lead to increased mucus production even after quitting smoking.
People with a lung condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease , may also have darker yellow or green phlegm. This disease is more common with age. And it is especially common in people who smoke cigarettes.
However, there are other chronic diseases that can lead to more mucus production and more coughing up of phlegm such as cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis.
Not all mucus comes from the lungs. The nasal passages can create mucus. This can happen from a common cold. It can also be from allergies such as hay fever.
When the mucus drips down the back of the throat , it can cause coughing that is sometimes mistaken as phlegm coming from the lungs.
What questions will your doctor ask?
“I want to know how long has this been going on? Is it getting better or worse? And whether anything seems to improve or worsen the condition.” Dr. Ranard
How Mucus Does Its Job
The airways of the lung constantly make mucus. The cells that line the airways have small hairs called cilia.
The cilia rhythmically beat back and forth, sweeping mucus up out of the airways and into the mouth. The mucus takes with it any foreign particles, like dirt, dust, or bacteria. This keeps the airways clean and free from infection.
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When You Smell Something
If the mucus you cough up isnt just green but also thick and foul-smelling, call your doctorstraight away. This could indicate an infection that needs treatment. In a study published in theEuropean Respiratory Journal, researchers found that green or yellow mucus in chronicbronchitis patients was significantly more likely to be caused by bacteria compared to clearmucus. If you have such an infection, you may need antibiotics. Sinus infections can also causethick, unpleasant-smelling mucus and coughing and may also require prescription medication
When To See A Doctor
You should see your GP if:
- you feel very unwell or your symptoms are severe
- your symptoms are not improving
- you feel confused, disorientated or drowsy
- you have chest pain or difficulty breathing
- you cough up blood or blood-stained phlegm
- your skin or lips develop a blue tinge
- you’re pregnant
- you’re very overweight and have difficulty breathing
- you think a child under five has a chest infection
- you have a weakened immune system
- you have a long-term health condition
- you have a cough that has lasted more than 3 weeks
Your GP should be able to diagnose you based on your symptoms and by listening to your chest using a stethoscope .
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What To Expect At Home
You will still have symptoms of pneumonia after you leave the hospital.
- Your cough will slowly get better over 7 to 14 days.
- Sleeping and eating may take up to a week to return to normal.
- Your energy level may take 2 weeks or more to return to normal.
You will need to take time off work. For a while, you might not be able to do other things that you are used to doing.
When To Speak With A Doctor
It is important to note that doctors cannot diagnose a particular disease or condition according to the color of a persons phlegm.
Having green, yellow, or thickened phlegm does not always indicate the presence of an infection. And if there is an infection, the color of the phlegm does not determine whether a virus, bacterium, or pathogen has caused it. Simple allergies can also cause changes in the color of the mucus.
Antibiotics will not always resolve green mucus.
People who have white, yellow, or green mucus that is present for more than a few days, or if they experience other symptoms, such as fever, chills, a cough, or sinus pain, should speak with a doctor. However, a person is usually fine to wait a few days to try and treat the symptoms at home before making an appointment.
Someone who develops new or increased red, brown, black, or frothy sputum should call their doctor for an appointment immediately. These symptoms can be signs of a more serious medical condition that requires prompt treatment.
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Green Or Yellow Phlegm Likely To Be Bacterial
By Kerry Grens, Reuters Health
4 Min Read
NEW YORK – Confirming widespread beliefs by doctors and parents alike, the color of phlegm coughed up by people is indeed a good indicator of whether that person has a bacterial infection, an international group of researchers found.
Green or yellow sputum, as clinicians call it, more often than not reflects a bacterial infection, whereas clear, white or rust colored phlegm most likely does not, according to the new study.
The results could help doctors determine whether or not a patient would benefit from antibiotics.
When someone comes in and complains of sputum production and its clear or white, theres no reason to spend money on antibiotics, said Dr. Neil Hampson, a professor emeritus at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, who was not involved in this study.
Thats because the researchers found that the great majority of the time, clear phlegm did not harbor disease-causing bacteria.
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, but dont work on virus-caused illnesses like the common cold.
The team analyzed sputum from more than 4,000 people with chronic bronchitis.
Just 18 out of every 100 samples of clear phlegm tested positive for disease-causing bacteria.
The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, did not show that green or yellow phlegm warrants an antibiotic prescription every time, however.
Many parents and physicians have long considered colored snot to be a marker of a bacterial infection.
Should I Go To Work With Green Phlegm
What your doctor calls phlegm becomes mucus in polite conversation, and snot for those who are plagued by too much of it. Whatever you call it, phlegm is something your body manufactures on overdrive when you have a cold or the flu. Sinusitis, bronchitis and pneumonia can also give you an ample supply of the stuff, as can hay fever and other allergies. Although the color of your mucus may have meaning, its usually not enough to determine if you need to call in sick.
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Check If You Have A Chest Infection
The main symptoms are:
- a chesty cough you may cough up green or yellow mucus
- wheezing and shortness of breath
- chest pain or discomfort
- aching muscles
These symptoms can be unpleasant, but they usually get better on their own in about 7 to 10 days.
The cough and mucus can last up to 3 weeks.
What Does Green Or Yellow Phlegm Mean
If you see green or yellow phlegm, its usually a sign that your body is fighting an infection. The color comes from white blood cells. At first, you may notice yellow phlegm that then progresses into green phlegm. The change occurs with the severity and length of the potential sickness.
Green or yellow phlegm is commonly caused by:
- Bronchitis. This usually starts off with a dry cough and eventually some clear or white phlegm. Over time, you may start coughing up yellow and green phlegm. This is a sign that the illness may have progressed to a secondary bacterial infection. Coughing can last up to 90 days.
- Pneumonia. This is typically a complication of another respiratory issue. With pneumonia, you may cough up phlegm that is yellow, green, or sometimes bloody. Your symptoms will vary based on the type of pneumonia you have. Cough, fever, chills, and shortness of breath are common symptoms with all types of pneumonia.
- Sinusitis. This is also known as a sinus infection. A virus, allergies, or even bacteria can cause this condition. When bacteria cause it, you may notice yellow or green phlegm, nasal congestion, postnasal drip, and pressure in your sinus cavities.
- Cystic fibrosis. This is a chronic lung disease where mucus builds up in the lungs. This disease often affects children and young adults. It can cause a variety of phlegm colors, from yellow to green to brown.
Brown phlegm is commonly caused by:
You may experience white phlegm with several health conditions.
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What Is The Common Cold
The common cold refers to at least 200 different viruses that cause a cold. Colds often go away on their own. Colds can:
- Occur at any age.
- Have a wide range of symptoms.
- Spread through direct contact with respiratory secretions, like saliva, mucus or phlegm.
- Last about seven to 10 days, though a cough can last up to three weeks.
- Lead to complications such as ear infections, eye infections, sinus infections and pneumonia.
Treating a cold can help you feel better:
- Use acetaminophen if you have body aches and fever.
- Stay hydrated. Make sure to drink a lot, especially fluids such as water, tea and broth.
- Get plenty of rest.
When To Seek Medical Care
See a doctor if you have:
- Trouble breathing or fast breathing
- Fever that lasts longer than 4 days
- Symptoms that last more than 10 days without improvement
- Symptoms, such as fever or cough, that improve but then return or worsen
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions
This list is not all-inclusive. Please see a doctor for any symptom that is severe or concerning.
When you have a cold, mucus fills your nose and could cause post-nasal drip, headache, and a sore throat.
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So When Is It Really Called Bacterial Sinusitis
The clinical diagnosis of acute bacterial sinusitis is based solely on history. In order to make a diagnosis of acute bacterial sinusitis, there should be nasal discharge and a cough for 10-14 days without improvement or severe respiratory symptoms with pus-like nasal discharge and a fever of > 102F for 3-4 days.
If I’m Coughing Phlegm Should I Go To Work
If youre coughing green phlegm, there is a good chance you have an infection that may be contagious. Stay home if you are coughing phlegm, especially if you have other symptoms, such as a fever, sore throat, or nausea. Staying home with stop the spread of the illness and keep your coworkers safe. Check with your healthcare provider before returning to work to see if you are still contagious.
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Can Antibiotics Treat Upper Respiratory Infections
Most of the time, viruses cause upper respiratory infections. Viruses dont respond to antibiotics. You can most likely treat the symptoms at home through pain relievers, rest and drinking fluids. If you have a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, youll take antibiotics. Penicillin or amoxicillin are frequently prescribed for strep throat.
Caring For Your Symptoms At Home
Many chest infections aren’t serious and get better within a few days or weeks. You won’t usually need to see your GP, unless your symptoms suggest you have a more serious infection .
While you recover at home, you can improve your symptoms by:
- getting plenty of rest
- drinking lots of fluid to prevent dehydration and to loosen the mucus in your lungs, making it easier to cough up
- treating headaches, fever and aches and pains with painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
- drinking a warm drink of honey and lemon to relieve a sore throat caused by persistent coughing
- raising your head up with extra pillows while you’re sleeping to make breathing easier
- using an air humidifier or inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water to ease your cough
- stopping smoking
Avoid cough medicines, as there’s little evidence they work, and coughing actually helps you clear the infection more quickly by getting rid of the phlegm from your lungs.
Antibiotics aren’t recommended for many chest infections, because they only work if the infection is caused by bacteria, rather than a virus.
Your GP will usually only prescribe antibiotics if they think you have pneumonia, or you’re at risk of complications such as fluid building up around the lungs .
If there’s a flu outbreak in your local area and you’re at risk of serious infection, your GP may also prescribe antiviral medication.
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Eucalyptus Or Peppermint Oil
Eucalyptus or peppermint essential oils are the active ingredients in many over-the-counter chest rubs.
When a person rubs these on the chest, they may aid relaxation, improve breathing, and make coughs more productive to get the phlegm out.
If using the essential oil directly, a person should dilute it in a little coconut or almond oil before applying it to the chest. Undiluted oils can sometimes be a little intense or painful with direct application to the skin.
Some people find that rubbing the oils into the soles of their feet and wearing thick socks can also be effective.
When Antibiotics Can Help
Sometimes, you get infected with a bacteria after you’ve got a cold. Some signs of bacterial sinus infection are pain around your face and eyes that may get worse when you bend over. You might also cough up thick, yellow or green mucus.
These symptoms may also occur with a cold. But if they last for more than a week or are severe, you may have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics.
Only your doctor can prescribe antibiotics. Talk to them if you think you might need them.
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When To Contact Your Doctor
While phlegm is a normal part of the respiratory system, its not normal if its affecting your everyday life. It may be time to call 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 to 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 to self-diagnose what type of lung issue youre having. A doctor can perform a variety of tests, including X-rays and sputum analyses, to determine the cause.
If youre not sure whats causing the change in color or are experiencing other unusual symptoms, contact your doctor.
Treatment From Your Gp
Treatment will depend on what caused your chest infection a virus or bacteria.
Viral chest infections
Many chest infections are caused by a virus. This usually clears up by itself after a few weeks and antibiotics won’t help.
Bacterial chest infections
Some chest infections are caused by bacteria. Your GP may prescribe antibiotics. Make sure you complete the whole course as advised by your GP, even if you start to feel better.
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What Complications Can Happen From Upper Respiratory Infections
Severe complications can include respiratory failure when theres too much carbon dioxide in your blood. The infection could also spread to other parts of your body, such as your brain or heart. If you have any concerns about your symptoms, call your healthcare provider. If you are having trouble breathing or other worrisome symptoms, call 911 or head to the nearest ER.
What Does Green Phlegm Mean
If green phlegm is your only real symptom that is, if you have green mucus, but you dont have a fever or sore throat, you arent sneezing or coughing frequently, and you dont have any sinus pressure chances are, youre not going to spread too many germs by heading to work. But when you have a fever, or your body aches, or you just dont feel well, its probably in your best interest, as well as your co-workers, to stay home and rest. You can generally return to work once youve been fever-free for 24 hours, especially if your other symptoms seem to be improving. If your symptoms dont improve much after 10 days, or if they get worse after a week, consider seeing your doctor.
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