All of a sudden coughing up brown mucus or phlegm may make you feel anxious and worried about your lungs’ health.
The consistency of mucus can range from mucoid (frothy) to mucopurulent to purulent (thick and sticky). According to the type and severity of the infection, the phlegm may get darker and thicker (3).
When you are dehydrated or in the morning, the mucus usually becomes thick and dark.
Mucus can change into different colors depending on the type of infection affecting your lungs.
- Green Or Yellow: Bronchitis, Cystic Fibrosis, Pneumonia or Sinusitis.
- Brown: Bronchitis, Cystic Fibrosis, Lung Abscess, Pneumonia or Pneumoconiosis.
- White: Bronchitis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Congestive Heart Failure Or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
- Black: Fungal Infection, Lung Abscess, Pneumoconiosis or Smoking.
- Clear: Allergic Rhinitis, Bronchitis Or Pneumonia
- Red Or Pink: Congestive Heart Failure, Lung Abscess, Lung Cancer, Pneumonia, Pulmonary Embolism, Tuberculosis
Why Are You Coughing Up Brown Mucus Or Phlegm?
Mucus is a slippery liquid made by mucous membranes or mucosas.
Mucus or phlegm is a very important material which 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 (7,8,9).
Coughing up phlegm commonly happens when one is suffering from common cold or flu. It is normal and nothing so alarming about it.
But if you are coughing up thick brown mucus it would mean that you are suffering from infections or disease affecting your lungs (10).
Usually, brown phlegm (bflem) 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.
Brown phlegm is commonly caused by:
1. Lung Infections
Here are some of the common infections that may cause brown mucus discharge while coughing:
- Bacterial bronchitis: Acute or chronic bronchitis can produce rusty brown sputum. Smoking or continuous exposure to chemical fumes and 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 sputum 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 sputum.
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 brown 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 make the phlegm appear dark brown.
The side effects of smoking also result in chronic bronchitis and emphysema which has brown mucus as one of the symptoms.
4. Environmental Pollutants
A person living or working in a highly polluted environment may change the color of his sputum to dark brown or black.
Industrial labors and factory workers who have to work in dusty surrounding might end up coughing up brown mucus.
After cleaning an extremely dusty room, you may discharge brown mucus while coughing.
5. Nasal Polyps
The nose bleeding caused by Nasal polyps may make the patient’s mucus to become brown or red in color. The dried blood in sinus gets mixed with the phlegm to change its color to brown.
How To Get Rid Of Brown Sputum?
If you are spitting out thick dark brown sputum while coughing, then you must see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Most of the 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 is 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 not 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 got rid of. 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.
Good Home Remedies For Coughing Up Brown Mucus
As we have already discussed, brown mucus is a result of infections like bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, lung abscess, pneumonia or pneumoconiosis. It can also be caused by smoking, acid reflex, Nasal polyps or environmental pollutants.
Natural remedies are viable to option to deal with brown phlegm caused by infections. Home remedies are the best option for treating brown mucus caused by common infection or disease. However, it is wise to consult your physician especially if the brown mucus discharge continues for more than a couple of days.
Here are 7 best home remedies which you may try for managing thick and dark mucus forced out through coughing.
1. Pepper And Honey
Black and white peppercorns are both the fruit of the pepper plant, but they are processed differently.
Pepper, both white and black, may help you break up and expel thick lung mucus. It works for removing sputum build up 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 honey; blend them together 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, cold, flu, and sinusitis.
Directions For Use:
Take 100 grams of fresh ginger roots and mush it 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 contains anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. When honey (preferably pure and organic forest honey) added to citric acid, it may help to loosen the brown phlegm.
Lemon tea is also an excellent remedy for soothing a sore throat and runny nose and improves the immunity to fight microbial infections affecting the lungs.
Directions For Use:
Take a glass of warm water and add 8 drops of lemons juice and 1 teaspoon raw honey to it. Stir the tea and drink it gradually. Repeat the intake of lemon tea thrice a day for best results.
4. Salt Water
Gargling with warm salt water is a traditional home remedy for loosening mucus and clearing blocked throat and nose. This remedy also relieves the chest congestion and sore throat problems caused by mucus build up in windpipes and nasal tracks.
Direction For Use:
Take a glass of warm water and add 1 teaspoon sea salt to it. Gargle for 3-5 minutes at a time and repeat the treatment thrice a day. Do not drink the salt water 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.
Direction For Use:
Add 5 fresh bay leaves to a cup of boiling water. Let it boils 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 is sufficiently cooled down. Drink the bay leaf tea three times a day to expel the brown mucus build up in the lungs.
6. Lemon And Garlic Tea
Anti-inflammatory properties contained in lemon and garlic is excellent expectorants to loosen the mucus and to make it get expelled while coughing.
Drinking lemon and garlic blended tea is sure to reduce symptoms of cold, 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 mashed garlic and one pinch of salt. For better results, you may add half a teaspoon of ground black pepper as well.
After stirring the mixture well, strain out 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 popularly used in several herbal medicines.
It is best known for its efficacy in treating cold and suppressing cough. It is also a commonly used ingredient in herbal cough syrups.
Wild cherry bark extracts may also benefit in managing bronchitis, flu, fever, sore throat, whooping cough, and sinusitis.
It is a powerful herbal expectorant that helps in loosening the thick dark brown mucus for driving it out of the chest, lungs and your 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 down 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 got rid of.
Alternatively, you can also consume the Wild cherry bark supplement which is available for purchase in herbal medicines stores.
A Few More Home Remedies For Thick Dark Brown Phlegm
We have just discussed 7 most effective natural remedies that you can try as mucus expectorants.
Here are a few more natural remedies 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 help in loosening the mucus.
- Grape Juice: Drink a mixture of 3 teaspoons grape juice and 1 tablespoon honey.
- Shallots: Sulfur contained in Shallots clears the infections affecting 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 grated ginger and cayenne pepper powder. Add to this mixture one tablespoon honey and drink this concoction.
- Spikenard Root: Prepare tea with Spikenard root and drink three times a day.
- Anise Seed: Mix two teaspoon of crushed anise seeds and 1 tablespoon 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 in a cup of warm milk; drink this mixture two times a day.
Coughing Up Brown Mucus After Quitting Smoking
Many smokers experience coughing up brown 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 result in aggregation of mucus and debris in the lungs.
Cilia gradually regain function a week after quitting smoking, but it may take few months for the Cilia to regenerate to its actual status.
So it is natural that smokers continue to see coughing up brown mucus after quitting smoking for a couple of weeks more till the damaged Cilia is fully regrown.
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 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 have to consult your physician to diagnose the issue.
If your sputum is clear, yellow, or green, you may be safe to wait for a few days to meet the doctor.
Coughing up dark brown mucus is mostly because of infection affecting the respiratory system, acid refluxes caused by certain foods or because of smoking. In most cases, you can get rid of brown phlegm problem with simple home remedies that we have already discussed here.