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Phlegm. It's that nasty, gross stuff you get in your mouth when you cough. Phlegm is mucus that's produced in your chest, and when you get sick, it can be different colors. You usually don't have much phlegm, called sputum, when you cough it out come up from your chest except when you're sick. Colors of your sputum can mean different things. Even if you have a particular color of sputum, you may not be able to tell precisely what's causing it -- not without your doctor's diagnosis, which may require tests.

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What Yellow Phlegm Means

Yellow phlegm typically means you have an infection of some variety. The infection may be either bacterial or viral. The yellow color is caused by white blood cells fighting the infection. If the infection continues, it changes to green. Yellow phlegm is usually a sign of one of the following:

  • Sinusitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Cystic fibrosis
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What Green Phlegm Means

Green phlegm means that your infection has gotten worse, not better. White blood cells fighting the infection causes the green color. The infection may be either bacterial or viral, which means if viral, antibiotics will not affect it. Green phlegm is usually a sign of one of the following:

  • Sinusitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Cystic fibrosis
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What White Phlegm Means

White phlegm is significant for several serious health conditions. You are most likely having some problems breathing because of it and should see a doctor right away. White phlegm may be caused by:

  • Viral bronchitis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • COPD (your lungs increase mucus and your airways narrow)
  • GERD (a digestive disorder that can cause white mucus)
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What Clear Phlegm Means

Clear is the normal state of your phlegm, but if you're coughing up clear phlegm, chances are you have some sort of irritant in your respiratory tract. Allergies are a common cause of this type of phlegm. Other causes include viral pneumonia and viral bronchitis. Your doctor can determine whether it is allergies or something more serious.

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What Brown Phlegm Means

Brown phlegm may be a cause for concern as it is that color because of old blood. It is often rusty in appearance. Often you see brown phlegm after seeing red or pink phlegm. The common causes of brown phlegm are:

  • Bacterial bronchitis
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Lung abscess
  • Pneumoconiosis (inhaling dust or other particles)
  • Cystic Fibrosis
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What Pink or Red Phlegm Means

Phlegm that is pink or red is that color due to blood in the mucus. It is a sign of a very serious condition and one you need to see a doctor about immediately. The common causes of pink or red phlegm are:

  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Tuberculosis
  • Lung cancer
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What Black Phlegm Means

Black phlegm is often caused by inhaling something such as smoke or coal dust. Occasionally it is caused by a fungal infection. Here are the common causes of black phlegm:

  • Smoking crack, heroin, marijuana, or other drugs
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Black lung disease form of Pneumoconiosis
  • Black yeast (fungal) infection (usually rare)
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What White and Frothy Phlegm Means

White and frothy phlegm is a sign of COPD. It can change color too, especially if you have a secondary infection occurring at the same time. In that case, you might have yellow and frothy or green and frothy phlegm. Since COPD can be very serious, it's important to see your doctor, especially if you have trouble breathing.

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What Pink and Frothy Phlegm Means

Pink and frothy phlegm is a sign of the late stage of congestive heart failure -- a very serious condition. You need to seek medical treatment immediately, especially if you're having trouble breathing. If you have chest pain, sweating, and shortness of breath, seek emergency services immediately. This is definitely an emergency.

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Phlegm is Natural; Too Much is Not

Phlegm is a natural part of our bodies, but too much phlegm is a sign of something wrong. Phlegm that is colored is definitely a sign something is going on with your body, which is why you should not ignore coughs that produce phlegm of any color. Some conditions described above are serious to life-threatening, so if you're having trouble breathing, have pain in your chest, sweating, or shortness of breath with colored or excessive phlegm, seek medical help immediately.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.