Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
Are you coughing up brown phlegm? The throat is constantly lubricated by mucus and that is a normal thing. The purpose of the mucus is to prevent the irritation of the throat and also to eliminate bacteria or other potential harmful pathogens. In healthy individuals, the mucus does not have a particular color. However, in the situation that you suffer from different medical problems, it is possible that you start to cough up brown phlegm. In this case, visiting a doctor is a good idea. The sooner the correct diagnosis is made, the sooner the adequate treatment can be taken and such symptoms will disappear.
Causes for Coughing up Brown phlegm
These are the most common causes that may lead to someone coughing up brown phlegm:
- Common cause
- Brown phlegm appears as substances contained by cigarettes accumulated at the level of the bronchi (tar, nicotine etc.); moreover, it has a characteristic grainy texture
- Such changes are often seen in those who have smoked for prolonged periods of time and in high quantities (heavy or chronic smokers)
- Apart from coughing up brown phlegm, heavy smokers also present brown nail and a specific odor (nicotine-based)
- Gastroesophageal acid reflux disease (GERD)
- The color of the phlegm depends on the foods that you have eaten
- Brown phlegm → caffeine-based drinks, dark tea, chocolate or even wine
- Polyps (nasal location)
- Polyps → nasal bleeding → brown phlegm
- Because of the polyps, the mucosal lining inside the nose is constantly irritated
- The dried blood can be swallowed unintentionally, causing the phlegm to become brown in color
- Prolonged/excessive alcohol consumption → infection at the level of the upper respiratory tract → lung + throat inflammation → coughing up brown phlegm
- Environmental factors
- Increased atmospheric pollution
- Excessive quantities of dust in living quarters
- Upper tract infection/lung infection → coughing up brown phlegm
- Lung disease → increased mucus production
- Can also be seen in patients who suffer from chronic bronchitis, emphysema or even cancer of the lungs.
How to treat Coughing up Brown phlegm
These are the treatment recommended for when you are coughing up brown phlegm:
- Cough syrup
- Choose the one for productive cough
- Some of these cough syrups contain codeine, which can make you feel sleepy (not recommended to drive a car)
- Medication to loosen the phlegm
- Recommended – Mucinex, guaifenesin
- Chest percussion
- Start by performing a steam inhalation (best results when eucalyptus oil is added to the water)
- With your hands cupped, tap your back for about a quarter of an hour
- This procedure will help you eliminate the excess brown phlegm and breath better
- Recommended in those who suffer from a bacterial infection at the level of the upper respiratory tract or lungs
- Oral or intravenous administration (depending on the severity of the infection)
- If antibiotics are administered orally, they have to be taken for as long as they are prescribed for, otherwise the bacteria will develop resistance to the treatment
- Probiotic supplements are administered at the same time with the oral antibiotics, so as to maintain a healthy intestinal flora.
These are the remedies that you can consider in the situation that you cough up brown phlegm:
- Saline solution (gargling)
- Lukewarm + salt
- Purpose – clean the phlegm
- The gargling should be repeated twice every day, until the first results are noticed
- Increased water intake → stay hydrated when ill
- Can also help dilute the brown phlegm, making it easier to eliminate
- Steam inhalation
- Recommended in those who suffer from the infection of the sinuses (sinusitis)
- Improves the breathing capacity and also dilutes the phlegm, making it easier to be eliminated
- Best performed before going to bed, so as to ensure a good night’s sleep
- Can also be performed in the morning, in order to clear the secretions that have gathered over night
- Honey with white pepper
- Antibacterial and antiseptic properties
- Depending on the frequency and intensity of the cough, it can be used 4 – 5 times per day
Apart from the above mentioned remedies, it might be a good idea to become accustomed to blowing your nose on a regular basis. This will help you eliminate the brown phlegm and will also reduce the risk of cough induced by the excess mucus. However, just make sure that you blow your nose in a gentle manner, so as not to aggravate the problem. It is also recommended to blow your nose one nostril at a time, so as not to increase the pressure in the blood vessels in the area.
When you are ill and you suffer from increased mucus production, it might be a good idea to eat a light diet. The heavier the meals, the more thick the mucus will be and also difficult to eliminate. As for its color, you have probably understood that there is a clear association between the things that you eat and the color of the phlegm. Including more fruits in the diet is a good idea, as it will dilute the phlegm as well and also increase your immunity, protecting you against future respiratory infections.
If you are coughing up brown phlegm, make sure that you spit it out and do not swallow it (if caused by an infection, the bacteria can reach your gastrointestinal tract and lead to additional problems). Drinking warm fluids, such as unsweetened tea, or eating soup, can also dilute the phlegm, helping you eliminate it more easily.
Prevention of Coughing up Brown phlegm
In order to prevent such problems in the future, it is advisable that you stop smoking. In this way, the harmful substances accumulated at the level of the lungs and upper respiratory tract are going to be gradually eliminated and the color of the mucus is going to go back to normal. The same thing is valid for the alcohol consumption, as this can cause problems not only at the level of the respiratory tract but also lead to chronic liver disease and organ insufficiency.