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What Mucus/Phlegm/Snot/Sputum Says About Your Health?

phlegm or mucus color

Cough and cold means dealing with phlegm or mucus or snot or sputum or plain goo and boogers, which is otherwise just a silent part of your body. And it’s not a bad thing because mucus is important for the body. It helps in lubricating the tissues of the sinuses, throat, lungs, nose and mouth. This sticky, gooey thing contains antibodies, proteins and enzymes which trap and kill bacteria and prevent dirt from entering into the body. But there’s more to phlegm! The color of the phlegm can reveal a lot about your health. Here’s what it can say!

What does the color of the mucus/phlegm mean?

In most cases, you do not produce noticeable amounts of phlegm unless you are sick or suffer from any respiratory problem. But when you cough up phlegm (known as sputum), it might indicate an underlying health problem and the color of the phlegm can give you an idea about your condition. Here are the different colors of the mucus and what it means.

Transparent mucus: In most cases, coughing up a clear mucus is not considered as a sign of any health problem. However, in some cases, clear or transparent phlegm might indicate an underlying viral infection or could indicate allergic rhinitis. An increase in the clear phlegm means that the body is flushing out toxins and irritants from the body.

White colored mucus: If you have thick, white colored mucus it could indicate an underlying viral infection. It might also be a sign of a respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, if it progresses into bacterial infection, then the color might change into yellow or green.

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Yellow colored mucus: It is a sign that the body is fighting an infection. In most cases, yellow colored mucus indicates a bacterial infection but it doesn’t always indicate one. The conditions that can cause yellow-colored mucus are bronchitis, pneumonia, and cystic fibrosis.

Green colored mucus: The white blood cells (WBCs), which are immune cells, contain an enzyme which is greenish in color. These cells appear in a cluster when fighting against an infection, which gives a greenish tint to normally transparent mucus. Green colored phlegm be a sign of cold, sinusitis, or pneumonia.

Red colored mucus: If you have red colored or rust colored mucus, then it a sign to worry. This is because, it indicates the presence of blood in the mucus. It might start off as a clear mucus with a strand of blood and might progresses into brown or red colored mucus. The conditions which can lead to red colored phlegm are bacterial pneumonia, bronchitis, cystic fibrosis and lung abscess.

Black colored mucus: Clinically known as melanoptysis, the appearance of black colored sputum may indicate inhalation of smoke or dust, especially if you work in a manufacturing unit. Not just smoking and use of drugs, blacked colored mucus could be due to pneumoconiosis (known as black lung disease) or fungal infection.

**Consult India’s best doctors here**

Whatever is the color of the phlegm, if you have cough which lasts for more than three weeks or it you have any other symptoms apart from cough and cold, then it is advised to consult a doctor at the earliest.

Recommended Reads:

9 Reasons Your lingering Cough Is Not Improving

Got a Cough? Understand Types of Cough & Medicine Options


Sattar Farzan. Cough and Sputum Production. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. 3rd edition. Chapter 38.

Altiner A, Wilm S, Däubener W, et al. Sputum colour for diagnosis of a bacterial infection in patients with acute cough. Scand J Prim Health Care. 2009;27(2):70-3.

Miravitlles M, Marín A, Monsó E, et al. Colour of sputum is a marker for bacterial colonisation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Respir Res. 2010 May 14;11:58.

Goeminne PC, Vandooren J, Moelants EA, et al. The Sputum Colour Chart as a predictor of
lung inflammation, proteolysis and damage in non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis: a case-control analysis. Respirology. 2014 Feb;19(2):203-210.

Martínez-Girón R, Mosquera-Martínez J, Martínez-Torre S. Black-pigmented sputum. J Cytol. 2013 Oct;30(4):274-5.

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