Select Page

Mucus produced in the chest is known as phlegm. It protects the lungs from unwanted germs getting inside; it is a good thing, and it doesn’t usually cause any problems. However, when you have a cold or other respiratory infection, you may find that your body produces many more of it, and the color might change. It is perfectly natural to wonder what the different changes in mucus color mean for your health, and in many cases, the color tells your doctor or other healthcare providers a lot about your condition and how it should be managed. It isn’t a pleasant symptom to discuss, but if you are unwell and you begin coughing up green mucus, it can be very alarming. 

Should you be worried? What causes green mucus? How can it be treated? When should you seek medical advice? Let’s look at the common reasons why a person might produce green mucus and how to deal with this problematic symptom.

Why Am I Coughing Up Green Mucus?

When the mucus is green, it usually means you are fighting an infection. A tinge of green that only lasts a short time may be a sign of a mild illness that does not require any treatment, but persistently coughing up green mucus for longer than one day is a sign of a chest infection. There are a number of different types of chest infections that may cause phlegm to turn green, so let’s take a look at some of the most common causes.

Coughing up Green Mucus due to Sinusitis

Cartoon face showing diagram of mucus from sinusitis

One of the most common reasons for coughing up yellow or green phlegm is sinusitis. Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses (the small spaces behind the cheeks and forehead). The sinuses can become inflamed, and this can result in increased mucus. Infection in the sinuses can cause yellow or green mucus. This can cause a stuffy or runny nose and postnasal drip. Postnasal drip is when mucus moves down the throat from the sinuses. This, too, can result in coughing up green mucus. Sinusitis can also cause a mild fever, body aches, headache, and pressure or pain in the sinus cavities. It can also leave you feeling overall unwell and fatigued.

Coughing up Green Mucus due to Bronchitis

Man coughing up green mucus due to bronchitis

Bronchitis is a chest infection that may be viral or bacterial. It is essentially inflammation in the airways (known as the bronchi) that causes them to produce more mucus. Symptoms of Bronchitis include a cough (as your body tries to remove the additional mucus), sore throat, fatigue, body aches, and a runny nose. Sometimes, viral Bronchitis develops into bacterial Bronchitis. If the mucus you are coughing up becomes yellow or green, this may be a sign that the illness is moving from a viral infection to a bacterial infection, and help may be required to shift it. Antibiotic treatment can be used to kill the bacteria, and for severe or persistent infections, steroids may also be used.

Coughing up Green Mucus due to Pneumonia

Woman coughing up green mucus because of pneumonia

Pneumonia occurs as a complication of a chest infection or respiratory condition. Pneumonia means that the lung tissue has become inflamed. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection (bacterial Pneumonia), but it can also be caused by a virus (viral Pneumonia). Pneumonia can be a serious condition, and the symptoms include coughing (including producing mucus that is yellow, brown, or bloody), difficulty breathing, fever, chest pain, fast heart rate, and feeling generally very unwell. Pneumonia is more common in older people and children, but it can affect anyone, and it can be very serious. It typically develops quite quickly, but gradual onset is possible. If you are producing yellow and green mucus and have pain or difficulty breathing, your doctor will ask you questions and check your symptoms to ascertain whether you may be suffering from Pneumonia. Coughing up green mucus is not enough to suggest that a diagnosis of Pneumonia is appropriate. Bacterial Pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. People often recover at home with rest and fluids, although for those who are at higher risk (for example, if they have a weakened immune system, are older, or have underlying health conditions), hospital treatment may be required.

When to See a Doctor about Green Mucus

Man visiting doctor because he's coughing up green mucus

A brief period of seeing yellow or green mucus when you cough, when not accompanied by other symptoms, should be manageable at home with rest and fluids. However, if your cough persists and the mucus lasts more than a day or two, or if you have severe symptoms, are concerned about your illness, or have underlying health issues, then it is best to contact your doctor. They will be able to talk to you about your specific symptoms and listen to your chest to ascertain if you need antibiotic treatment.

Home Treatments for Respiratory Infections

The best way to look after yourself if you are suffering from a respiratory infection is to seek medical advice as soon as you feel it is appropriate. If you are unsure, then it is better to see a doctor and get advice. The next most important thing is to rest and drink fluids. This will help your body fight the infection. It is important to not smoke, and getting a healthy and varied diet with lots of fresh foods will help restore the body and support the immune system. Some people find it helpful to take pain relief for pain or body aches, and steam can be a really soothing way to help you get rid of some of the mucus on your chest. Over the counter medications are available that help with coughing up mucus. These are known as expectorants, and they make mucus looser and more comfortable to cough up.

You know your body best; if something changes or you are concerned, always seek reassurance and information from a trusted medical professional who knows your medical history and can give you specific advice based on your symptoms.