Coughing Mucus and Phlegm

Help to clear mucus (phlegm) for the relief of coughing, soreness and throat congestion.

Select a Topic

  1. What Causes Coughing Mucus and Phlegm?
  2. Reasons for Colored Mucus and Phlegm
  3. Productive Coughs in Children
  4. Coughing, Mucus and Phlegm During Pregnancy
  5. Help for Coughing Mucus and Phlegm

What Causes Coughing Mucus and Phlegm?

A cough that is accompanied with mucus or phlegm (sputum), commonly called a "productive cough," is usually a sign that an infection has developed in the lungs. Coughing up phlegm or mucus can be caused by various things and include the common cold, allergies, irritants (smoking, dust, pet dander, chemical fumes), gastro-esophageal reflux or bacterial or viral infections in the lungs such as acute bronchitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, croup in children. The mucus or phlegm often varies in consistency and color ranging from yellow, green, brown, grey or may even contain blood.

Coughing mucus and phlegm commonly occurs in the morning. If you are coughing up mucus and phlegm and it persists, consult your doctor. Based on your cough symptoms, your doctor will perform a physical examination as well as certain diagnostic tests.

Causes of Coughing, Mucus and Phlegm

Some common causes include:

  • Common cold
  • Irritants (e.g. smoking, dust, pet dander, chemical fumes, etc.)
  • Allergies (hayfever)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Bacterial or viral infections in the lungs
  • The flu
  • Acute bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Whooping cough
  • Croup in children
  • Tuberculosis (TB)
  • Lung cancer
  • Acid reflux
  • Mono
  • Chemotherapy
Foods that increase mucus and phlegm production

The following are some foods to avoid, as they are likely to increase mucus and phlegm production:

  • Dairy and milk products, such as cheese, yogurt and cottage cheese
  • Refined sugars, such as those in white flour and bread
  • Chocolate
  • Soy
  • Salty foods
  • Yeast products

Reasons for Colored Mucus and Phlegm

Mucus any color other than white or clear is generally indicative of an infection or other problem. Consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner for more information.

  • Yellow – may be a sign of a lower respiratory tract infection or a bacterial infection, sinus infection, cold or flu, allergy, or bronchitis
  • Green – may be a sign of pneumonia
  • Brown – may be from inhaling dust or smog, or a sign of infection or blood
  • Grey – may be a sign of inhaling air pollution
  • Red / Pink – may be a sign of blood

Productive Coughs in Children

A common cold virus is usually responsible for causing coughing in children. A 'heavy' type of cough is often caused by mucus and phlegm running down the nose and into the chest. Position children into an upright sleeping position, allowing for easier breathing during sleep. Steam is recommended to possibly help your child have a more productive cough. For very young children, take them into the bathroom and sit in the hot steam for 10-15 minutes. Older children may benefit from using a warm steam vaporizer, as well as blowing their nose several times during a steam treatment.

Coughing, Mucus and Phlegm During Pregnancy

Nasal congestion, coughing and phlegm are very common symptoms experienced during pregnancy. Fluctuating hormone levels and estrogen are known to exacerbate mucus production and can cause the mucus to get very thick or thin. Self-care is usually the best approach for handling these issues. Avoid environmental irritants as much as possible. Be sure to stay hydrated, and avoid caffeinated beverages, which can lead to dehydration. Sleep with your head elevated, and use a warm steam vaporizer to help make coughs more productive.

Help for Coughing Mucus and Phlegm

Treatment of a persistent cough and phlegm involves using a good cough mixture recommended by your pharmacist or prescribed by your doctor. Avoid using over-the-counter cough suppressants as they may not be the most suitable product. Expectorants and mucolytics may be prescribed to break up mucus and phlegm thereby making it easier to cough up. Do not combine an expectorant with an antihistamine, decongestant or cough suppressant as they may bring about negative side effects.

Relief for Coughing, Mucus and Phlegm:

  • Inhale steam from a tub of boiling water or hot shower to loosen phlegm in the throat and sinus congestion
  • Drink plenty of water daily to loosen phlegm and thin mucus
  • Avoid eating foods such as dairy products, meat or fried foods that increase mucus production
  • Drink hot liquids such as tea or chicken broth to moisten the airways and help the breaking up process
  • Use a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer in your bedroom at night to thin the mucus
  • Limit exposure to irritants such as household cleaners, paint fumes, chemicals or smoke
  • Products such as Mucus-Clear™ may also provide temporary relief from symptoms of throat congestion and excessive mucus.