I’m Coughing Up Brown Mucus, What Should I Do?
The major cause of coughing up brown mucus is probably smoking. Coughing is the reflex action caused due to irritation of sensory nerves in the lining of the respiratory passages. Mucus coughed up from the chest is called phlegm. In indicates inflammation in the respiratory organs in the voice box, windpipe, bronchi and lungs. The cause of inflammation can be diagnosed from the color and density of phlegm and the associated symptoms. Phlegm may be clear white, pink, orange, yellow/green, grey, brown, etc. (For more information on what the different colors of mucus mean, have a look at our Coughing Up Substances section)
Coughing Up Brown Mucus – Causes
Coughing up brown mucus (may also appear to be a “rust” color) may be due to any of the following reasons:
- Eating chocolates, cocoa or other foods that contribute to the brown color of the mucus.
- Resins and tars in cigarette smoke, if you are a smoker. Nicotine, tar and resins get into the bronchial passages of smokers with every puff and settle on the linings of the respiratory system. This causes irritation and cough.
- Inhaling of dust or smog.
- Chronic bronchitis or other infections.
- Blood coming up from anywhere in the respiratory system.
- Bloody or brownish mucus is also discharged when the sinuses are inflamed.
- Nasal polyps or irritated mucus membranes may also contribute to brown mucus.
- Brown mucus is also common with alcohol consumers as they often have inflamed throats and bronchi.
Mucus membranes of the body produce mucus when they fight infections. Brown phlegm is the mucus that has become congealed and visible. Phlegm originates from the lungs and is different from the mucus that is produced in the nasal passages. People who are suffering from chronic bronchitis due to smoking cough up brown phlegm, expelling the tar, resins and nicotine that build up in the respiratory system. It is a matter of concern and medical assistance must be sought. Another reason for coughing up brown mucus is blood arising from the bronchi, voice box, windpipe or lungs. This is a more serious cause. The phlegm coughed out in such cases will have brown specks in it.
Coughing Up Brown Mucus – Remedies
Treatment is essential for anyone coughing up brown mucus. Medication is one option, but there are also some remedies that can be used to treat phlegm. However, the first and foremost requirement is that the person should quit smoking altogether.
- If the phlegm formation is due to a sinus infection, a flu or cold, a nasal spray or decongestant like Sudafed will be of great help.
- An expectorant will help loosen up phlegm if the person is suffering from bronchitis or a chest cold. An expectorant and a cough suppressant are different. An expectorant is prescribed when the patient has a productive cough. Two common over-the-counter expectorants are Mucinex and Robitussin. A cough suppressant should not be used if the requirement is to get rid of phlegm. Ingredients like guaifenesin, ipecachuana or ammonium citrate are present in expectorants.
- A non-productive cough is treated with cough suppressants that include pholcodine, dextromethorphan and codeine to reduce the cough reflex.
- Throat lozenges can also be used.
- Always spit the phlegm into a tissue rather than swallowing it. This is because swallowing reintroduces the phlegm back into the pulmonary system.
- Antihistamines like diphenhydramine and promethazine also reduce the cough reflex and dry up nasal secretions caused by a postnasal drip or that associated with a cold.
- Ipratropium bromide nasal spray reduces watery nasal secretions that contribute to a cough.
- Certain cough remedies consist of sympathomimetics such as ephedrine to relax airway.
Some home remedies for coughing up brown mucus are as follows:
- Consumption of lots of fluids to loosens up phlegm and enables it to flow out of the body easily. Water is considered to be an expectorant and hence having sufficient quantities of water will be helpful.
- Herbal teas have been found to be beneficial in alleviating respiratory problems.
- A mixture of honey and white pepper is known to be effective in curing cough and drying up the phlegm.
- Steam inhalation will also help.Mint and eucalyptus leaves can be added to hot water to get better results. Steam inhalation can be done 2 – 3 times a day.
- A herb that has been used for hundreds of years to treat inflammation and congestion of the lungs is Golden Seal. It is available in tablet form inhealth stores.
- Taking a clove of garlic with milk in the morning gives a lot of relief from phlegm in the lungs. Garlic is considered to be a natural expectorant.
- Taking ginger juice mixed with honey twice a day is also found to be beneficial.
- Boil fresh basil leaves with a pinch of crushed black pepper and a teaspoon of crushed ginger. Strain the liquid and add a tea spoon of honey. Have a teaspoon of the mixture two to three times in a day to get relief from phlegm.
Generally, the lungs and lower respiratory parts are sterile, but dust or dirt getting into lungs can form the breeding ground for bacteria and cause infections. Coughing up phlegm indicates that there is infection in the one or more parts of the respiratory system due to a cold, a more serious sinus infection, irritants, bronchitis, lung infections, etc. The body produces a large amount of phlegm to neutralize the bacteria, virus or any other irritant that has entered the system. It is through coughing that the excess mucus produced in the body is expelled.
Coughing up brown mucus (any color of mucus, really) and phlegm happens mostly in the mornings. It is important to seek medical help if the cough persists. Based on the cough symptoms like color, density, etc., the doctor will conduct a physical examination and certain diagnostic tests, including chest x-ray, blood tests, sputum examination, ECG and CT scan to rule out serious diseases like TB or lung cancer.
If the doctor determines that any treatment for the cough will not yield realistic benefits as in the case of advanced lung cancer he/she may recommend the use of powerful cough suppressants.
It is, therefore, not wise on the part of anyone who is coughing up brown mucus to wait and watch – if the cough persists and causes a lot of inconvenience, you should see a doctor immediately.admin