All of a sudden, coughing up brown mucus may make you feel anxious and worried about your lungs’ health.
Normally, the body produces mucus to keep the respiratory tract moist. It helps to trap and force out the small particles of foreign matter that may harm the lungs.
The body produces mucus to keep the thin, delicate tissues of the respiratory tract moist so that small particles of foreign matter that may pose a threat can be trapped and forced out.
Phlegm Consistency And Colors
Phlegm is a type of mucus that is formed in the chest. A noticeable amount of phlegm in varying degrees of consistency is formed when infection or disease is affecting the lungs, throat, respiratory tract, or nose.
The consistency of phlegm can range from mucoid (frothy) to mucopurulent (thick and sticky). It may get darker and thicker according to the type and severity of the infection.
The color comes from white blood cells.
When you are dehydrated or in the morning, it usually becomes thick and dark.
It can change colors depending on the type of infection affecting your lungs. For example, black lung disease (mostly found in coal miners), may cause black sputum.
The phlegm colors may change according to viral or bacterial infections, such as:
Yellow or Green Phlegm: Bronchitis, Cystic Fibrosis, Pneumonia, or Sinusitis.
Brown Phlegm: Bronchitis, Cystic Fibrosis, Lung Abscess, Pneumonia, or Pneumoconiosis.
White Phlegm: Bronchitis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Congestive Heart Failure, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
Black Phlegm: Fungal Infection, Lung Abscess, Pneumoconiosis, or Smoking.
Clear Phlegm: Allergic Rhinitis, Bronchitis, Or Pneumonia.
Red Or Pink Phlegm: Congestive Heart Failure, Lung Abscess, Lung Cancer, Pneumonia, Pulmonary Embolism, Tuberculosis.
Why Are You Coughing Up Brown Mucus?
A mucus is a slippery liquid made by mucous membranes or mucosas.
Phlegm means a type of mucus that comes from the lungs and nearby lower respiratory airways.
This thick fluid has several beneficial functions for health. It helps trap particles such as dirt, minimizes water loss, protects the surface from damage, lubricates, and most importantly, destroys bacteria and viruses.
Coughing up phlegm may happen when one is suffering from a common cold or flu. It is normal, and there is nothing alarming about it.
But if you are coughing up a thick brown or chocolate-colored mucus, it would mean that you are suffering from infections or diseases affecting your lungs.
Usually, it is not an indication of any serious underlying health conditions. However, you should be vigilant in consulting a physician if the issue persists for more than a day.
This condition is commonly caused by:
1. Lung Infections
Lung infection caused by bacteria or viruses is the main reason phlegm changes color to brown. Respiratory infections occur when a bacterium or virus is trapped in your nasal cavity.
Generally, bacteria can cause black phlegm when secondary bacterial infection occurs in your lungs due to a weakened immune system.
Here are some of the common infections that may cause it to be discharged while coughing:
Bacterial bronchitis: Acute or chronic bronchitis can produce rusty brown sputum. Smoking or continuous exposure to chemical fumes or other irritants can aggravate the situation.
Bacterial pneumonia: Brown or rusty-colored mucus is one of the symptoms of bacterial pneumonia.
Lung abscess: People suffering from lung abscess may experience a cough that brings up brown or blood-streaked sputum with a foul smell.
Pneumoconiosis: Discharge of brown fluid while coughing is one of the symptoms of Pneumoconiosis which is caused by regularly inhaling dust from coal, silicosis, asbestos, or other dust pollutants.
Cystic fibrosis: This chronic lung disease may cause rust-colored spittle.
2. Acid Reflux
Stomach acid or bile flowing back up into your esophagus is a common acid reflux issue faced by many.
GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux that can irritate the lining of your esophagus, causing it to become inflamed. This may also result in the development of mucus in the esophagus.
Throwing up rust-colored phlegm while coughing can also be the result of heavy smoking.
Smokers accumulate a combination of resins, tar, and nicotine in the lungs and bronchial passages, which makes the phlegm appear dark brown.
The side effects of smoking also result in chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which have brownish or rust-colored mucus as one of the symptoms.
4. Environmental Pollutants
A person living or working in a highly polluted environment may change the color of their sputum to dark brown or black.
Industrial laborers and factory workers who have to work in dusty surroundings might end up coughing up dark mucus.
After cleaning an extremely dusty room, you may discharge brown bile while coughing.
5. Nasal Polyps
Nasal polyps are painless, noncancerous growths that can lead to a loss of smell or infection.
The nose bleeding caused by nasal polyps may make the patient’s mucus brown or red in color. The dried blood in the sinus gets mixed with the phlegm to change its color to brown.
Coughing Up Dark Mucus After Quitting Smoking
Many smokers experience coughing up black mucus after quitting smoking. Yes, this may happen for a few more weeks after totally quitting smoking.
There are tiny hair-like projections on the surface of the airways called Cilia which help in clearing mucus and debris from the lungs.
Smoking tobacco damages the cilia, which results in the aggregation of mucus and debris in the lungs.
Cilia gradually regain function a week after quitting smoking, but it may take a few months for Cilia to regenerate to its actual status.
So it is natural that smokers continue to cough up brown mucus after quitting smoking for a couple of weeks more till the damaged cilia are fully regrown.
How To Get Rid Of Brown Phlegm?
If you are coughing up blood along with phlegm, experiencing chest pain accompanied by shortness of breath, or experiencing an intense coughing spell, then it may be necessary to seek help from local emergency health services. If you are spitting out thick, dark brown sputum while coughing, then it’s another sign to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Most phlegm-causing conditions readily respond to antibiotics or other treatments.
Sputum production resulting from viral infections can be easily remedied by using antibiotics or natural remedies.
Proper rest, sleep, eating, and hydration are also crucial for getting rid of thick mucus discharges.
Here are some ways to get rid of brown phlegm:
Use over-the-counter expectorants like guaifenesin (Mucinex) to loosen the phlegm and easily cough it up.
Gargling with warm salt water is useful for loosening the mucus caused by sinusitis or allergies.
Use a humidifier in your bedroom while sleeping. This helps to loosen phlegm and allows you to cough up more easily.
Use chest rubs like the Vicks VapoRub, which contains eucalyptus oil to loosen the snot and cough it up smoothly.
Quit smoking and avoid alcoholic drinks till your brown mucus issue is gotten rid of. To totally quit the habit of smoking and chewing tobacco products in any form to prevent lung diseases that produce brown or black mucus.
Use a nasal spray or a decongestant to clear phlegm in the lungs and throat.
Do not swallow the phlegm; you end up reintroducing it into your pulmonary system. Always cough up the phlegm and spit it out. If you are in the office or public places, use a tissue to collect and clear the phlegm.
Use monoclonal antibody drugs.
DIY Care For Coughing Up Brown Mucus
As we have already discussed, this condition is a result of infections like bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, lung abscess, pneumonia, or pneumoconiosis. It can also be caused by smoking, acid reflux, nasal polyps, or environmental pollutants. Always seek formal medical attention and see a doctor to determine the disease.
Natural remedies are viable for the option of dealing with discolored mucus caused by infections. However, it is wise to call your doctor, especially if the discolored discharge continues for more than a couple of days.
Here are the 7 best home remedies that you may try for managing thick and dark mucus.
1. Pepper And Honey
Black and white peppercorns are both fruits of the pepper plant, but they are processed differently.
Peppers, both white and black, may help you break up and expel thick mucus from the lung. It works to remove its buildup in the throat and nasal passage as well.
Directions for Use:
Take half a teaspoon of pepper and grind it. Mix the ground pepper with one teaspoon of honey; blend them by warming up. Directly consume the mixture; repeat this treatment three times a day to loosen the mucus.
2. Ginger And Honey
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (umm.edu), ginger has been used for over 2000 years to treat various conditions.
Ginger contains excellent expectorant properties that can give fast relief from chest and throat congestion caused by mucus buildup.
Ginger tea with pepper is a traditionally used home remedy for relieving symptoms associated with coughs, colds, flu, and sinusitis.
Directions for Use:
Take 100 grams of fresh ginger roots and mush them after peeling. Add two teaspoons of raw honey to the mashed ginger and warm up the mixture in the oven for a minute.
Consume two teaspoons of this ginger and honey mixture three times a day to relieve the brown mucus present in the windpipes.
Warning: Ginger should not be used by people with gallstones, gallbladder disease, diabetes, or heart problems.
3. Lemon Tea With Honey
The citric acid in lemon tea has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. When honey (preferably pure and organic forest honey) is added to citric acid, it may help to loosen the brown phlegm.
Directions for Use:
Take a glass of warm water and add 8 drops of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon, of raw honey, to it. Stir the tea and drink it gradually. Repeat the intake of lemon tea thrice a day for the best results.
4. Salt Water
Gargling with warm salt water is a traditional home remedy for loosening mucus and clearing the throat and nose. This remedy also relieves chest congestion and sore throat problems caused by mucus buildup in windpipes and nasal tracks.
Directions for Use:
Take a glass of warm water and add 1 teaspoon of sea salt to it. Gargle for 3-5 minutes at a time and repeat the treatment three times a day. Do not drink the saltwater while gargling.
5. Bay Leaf Tea
Bay leaf is a fantastic natural remedy that works great for drawing out the phlegm build-up in the lungs and throat.
Consuming bay leaves in tea can help ease the symptoms of coughs and colds as they help clear congestion caused by sputum.
Directions for Use:
Add 5 fresh bay leaves to a cup of boiling water. Let it boil for 3 minutes, allowing the medicinal extracts from the leaves to ooze into the water.
Strain out the leaves and consume the bay leaf tea when it has sufficiently cooled down. Drink bay leaf tea three times a day to expel the dark phlegm build-up in the lungs.
6. Lemon and Garlic Tea
The anti-inflammatory properties contained in lemon and garlic are excellent expectorants to loosen the mucus and expel it while coughing.
Drinking lemon-and-garlic blended tea is sure to reduce symptoms of colds, flu, and bronchitis.
Directions for Use:
Take a cup of boiling water and squeeze the juice from a fresh lemon into it; then add two cloves of smashed garlic and one pinch of salt. For better results, you may want to add half a teaspoon of ground black pepper as well.
After stirring the mixture well, strain the warm tea into a cup and drink it gradually.
Repeat the treatment thrice a day to get rid of the yellowish-brown sputum.
7. Wild Cherry Bark
Wild cherry bark is a natural substance sold in supplement form. This is an extract obtained from the bark of the Prunus serotina tree (a plant native to eastern North America), which is commonly used in several herbal medicines.
It is best known for its efficacy in treating colds and suppressing coughs. It is also a commonly used ingredient in herbal cough syrups.
Wild cherry bark extracts may also be helpful in managing bronchitis, flu, fever, sore throat, whooping cough, and sinusitis.
It is a powerful herbal expectorant that helps in loosening the thick, dark mucus to drive it out of the chest, lungs, and throat.
Directions for Use:
Take a glass of boiling water and add to it 1 teaspoon of wild cherry bark powder. Let the medicinal essence of the bark steep in the water for 3 minutes. Strain the tea into a cup and drink it warm. It is better to drink 3 cups of wild cherry bark daily till the sputum is entirely gotten rid of.
Alternatively, you can also consume the wild cherry bark supplement, which is available for purchase in herbal medicine stores.
More Tips For Fast Relief
We have just discussed the 7 most effective DIY remedies you can try as mucus expectorants.
Here are a few more natural relief solutions worth trying:
Chickpea powder: Consume fried chickpea powder diluted in honey.
Lemon and onion juice mixture: Dilute lemon and onion juice in a glass of warm water and drink.
Chicken soup: Drinking warm chicken soup helps in loosening the mucus.
Grape juice: Drink a mixture of 3 teaspoons of grape juice and 1 tablespoon of honey.
Shallots: Sulfur contained in shallots clears the infections affecting the lungs and loosens the mucus. Eat 6-8 shallots with honey.
Cayenne pepper and ginger: Mix into a glass of warm water 1 teaspoon each of grated ginger and cayenne pepper powder. Add to this mixture one tablespoon of honey and drink this concoction.
Spikenard root: Prepare tea with spikenard root and drink it three times a day.
Anise seed: Mix two teaspoons of crushed anise seeds and 1 tablespoon of honey in a glass of warm water; stir it well and drink it after straining.
Turmeric: Add a teaspoon of finely ground black pepper and turmeric powder to a cup of warm milk; drink this mixture two times a day.
The Bottom Line
Phlegm production is necessary for the protection of the respiratory system. However, a huge amount of sputum builds up in the respiratory system and is caused by disease or infection.
Coughing up brown, red, pink, black, or dark green sputum is clearly a sign of an underlying disease.
If you notice an unusual change in color, consistency, or volume of mucus discharge while coughing, you should consult your physician to diagnose the issue.
If your sputum is clear, yellow, or green, you may be safe to wait a few days to see the doctor.
Coughing up dark brown mucus is mostly because of infections affecting the respiratory system, acid reflux caused by certain foods, or smoking. In most cases, you can get rid of the brown phlegm problem with simple home remedies that we have already discussed here.