Causes of Green or Yellow Mucus & Why You're Coughing

Coughing up green or yellow mucus, also known as sputum, usually indicates that there is a bacterial or viral infection present. The most common infections that causes coughing up yellow or green phlegm includes bronchitis, pneumonia, or sinusitis. Individuals who are coughing up green or yellow mucus may also have a sore throat, runny nose, or headaches. Read below for more causes and how to get rid of phlegm in the chest.

Coughing Up Green or Yellow Phlegm/Mucus Symptoms Explained

It's likely that you've had a bad cold and coughed up phlegm that looks yellowish or greenish in color. These colors are a signal that your cough is likely caused by a bacterial infection. Producing phlegm and coughing are ways the body rids itself of infectious agents, and why a cough suppressant may not always benefit you. Coughing up mucus may be uncomfortable, but it may accelerate your overall recovery. Phlegm is also called sputum, mucus, or "snot."

Common characteristics of coughing up green or yellow phlegm

If you're coughing up green or yellow phlegm, it can likely present with:

Common accompanying symptoms

It's also common to experience the following widespread symptoms:

Who is most often affected?

The following people are more likely to cough up green or yellow phlegm.

  • Children under five years of age
  • Older children with enlarged tonsils and adenoids
  • Adults over age 65
  • Anyone with chronic lung disease
  • Smokers

When is it most likely to occur?

You are more likely to suffer from this type of cough when:

  • You are stressed or weakened: And are exposed to someone else who is ill.
  • Following a viral infection: Such as a cold, the flu, or a childhood disease such as chickenpox or measles. A secondary bacterial infection can take advantage of a weakened immune system following the viral infection.

Is coughing up green or yellow phlegm serious?

The severity of your cough depends on the cause.

  • Not serious: In a young and otherwise healthy individual, coughing up green or yellow material is usually not serious.
  • Moderately serious: In an older person, especially over 65, these symptoms can be more debilitating.
  • Serious: If you already have a weakened immune system or a chronic disease, these symptoms can lead to serious illness.

What Causes Someone to Cough Up Green or Yellow Mucus?

The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when to see a physician.

Mild to moderate bacterial infections

Mild to moderate bacterial infections generally produce yellow phlegm.

  • Acute inflammation of the lungs
  • Laryngitis: Acute inflammation of the larynx (the voice box) will make your voice hoarse.
  • Sinusitis: A chronic sinus infection.

Severe bacterial infections

Severe bacterial infections tend to produce green phlegm.

  • Bacterial infections of the lungs: These infections may produce large amounts of green phlegm along with a high fever.
  • An abscess in the lung: An abscess can follow an untreated or severe case of pneumonia. A ruptured abscess will produce green phlegm, pain, and fever.

Viral illnesses and other causes

Viral illnesses, congenital illnesses, and damage to the lungs can result in yellow or green mucus.

  • Viral upper respiratory infection (URI): This infection is commonly known as a cold, in which whitish-yellow sputum may appear.
  • Viral infections of the lungs: These infections may produce small amounts of yellow-white phlegm and a low-grade fever.
  • Damage to the lungs from repeated inflammation (bronchiectasis): Damage makes it difficult to expel the mucus and causes heavy coughing. Lung damage is sometimes due to a congenital condition.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.


Acute bronchitis is an inflammatory reaction to an infection in the airways. Most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by a viral infection, although some cases may be due to a bacterial infection.

Symptoms include an acute-onset cough with or without sputum production, low-grade fever, shortness of breat..

Bacterial pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by one of several different bacteria, often Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumonia is often contracted in hospitals or nursing homes.

Symptoms include fatigue, fever, chills, painful and difficult breathing, and cough that brings up mucus. Elderly patients may have low body temperature and confusion.

Pneumonia can be a medical emergency for very young children or those over age 65, as well as anyone with a weakened immune system or a chronic heart or lung condition. Emergency room is only needed for severe cases or for those with immune deficiency.

Diagnosis is made through blood tests and chest x-ray.

With bacterial pneumonia, the treatment is antibiotics. Be sure to finish all the medication, even if you start to feel better. Hospitalization may be necessary for higher-risk cases.

Some types of bacterial pneumonia can be prevented through vaccination. Flu shots help, too, by preventing another illness from taking hold. Keep the immune system healthy through good diet and sleep habits, not smoking, and frequent handwashing.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, cough, headache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath

Symptoms that always occur with bacterial pneumonia: cough

Urgency: In-person visit

Chronic bronchitis

By definition, chronic bronchitis describes a productive cough lasting more than three months at a time and occurring at least two years in a row. Chronic bronchitis is the less deadly but more bothersome side of the broader condition known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (..


Tuberculosis, or TB, is a lung infection caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In some cases, it can affect other organs such as the brain or kidneys.

The disease spreads when an infected person exhales, speaks, or coughs and someone else inhales the bacteria. Tuberculosis is not transmitted any other way. Some patients carry TB without ever showing symptoms, though the disease may become active if something happens to weaken the immune system.

Most susceptible are those with weakened immune systems; infected with HIV; living or working in homeless shelters, correctional facilities, or nursing homes; and children under age 5.

Symptoms include severe cough that may bring up sputum and/or blood; chest pain; weakness; weight loss; fever; chills, and night sweats.

Diagnosis is made through skin tests, blood tests, sputum tests, and chest x-ray.

Treatment involves a course of specialized antibiotics under close medical supervision, along with rest and supportive care.

There is a vaccine for tuberculosis, but it is not entirely effective and not routinely given in the United States.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, rib pain, dry cough

Urgency: In-person visit

Aspiration pneumonia

Aspiration Pneumonia occurs when food, saliva, liquids, or vomit is breathed into the lungs or airways leading to the lungs, causing an infection.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, fever, coughing up green or yellow phlegm

Urgency: Hospital emergency room


Bronchiectasis is destruction and widening of the large airways. Mucus builds up in these airways and can get infected, causing a pneumonia.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (copd) exacerbation

A COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) exacerbation is a worsening of your COPD, causing you to struggle for breathe. This is often caused by an infection in the lungs.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, worsening cough, coughing up green or yellow phlegm

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Acute bacterial sinusitis

Acute bacterial sinusitis, also called bacterial rhinosinusitis or "sinus infection," has symptoms much like viral rhinosinusitis but a different treatment.

Any sinusitis usually begins with common cold viruses. Sometimes a secondary bacterial infection takes hold. Like cold viruses, these bacteria can be inhaled after an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Anyone with viral sinusitis, upper-respiratory allergy, nasal passage abnormality, lung illness, or a weakened immune system is more prone to bacterial sinusitis.

Symptoms include thick yellowish or greenish nasal discharge; one-sided pain in the upper jaw or teeth; one-sided sinus pain and pressure; fatigue; fever; and symptoms that get worse after first improving.

See a doctor right away for severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, or vision changes. These can indicate a medical emergency.

Diagnosis is made with a simple examination in the doctor's office.

Bacterial sinusitis can be treated with antibiotics, but this is not always necessary. Often rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants are enough.

Prevention is done through good lifestyle and hygiene to keep the immune system strong.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches

Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis: sinusitis symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis: clear runny nose, being severely ill

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Bronchogenic cyst

A bronchogenic cyst is an abnormal sac of air that grows out of normal airways and is present at birth. It can enlarge and compress the lung tissue around it, causing symptoms such as cough, difficulty breathing, pain, and fever.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: shortness of breath, constant cough, coughing up green or yellow phlegm, shoulder blade pain, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone

Symptoms that always occur with bronchogenic cyst: constant cough

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Lung abscess

A lung abscess is a large collection of pus in the tissue of the lungs that results from a bacterial infection. Bacteria that should not normally be found in the lungs causes inflammation that leads to a breakdown of the lung tissue, thus producing the pus.

Symptoms vary depending on whether the abs..

Worried about a condition?

Take a thorough self-assessment of your symptoms to find the cause.

Free, private, and secure

Powered by advanced Buoy Assistant AI, learn more.

Treatments for Coughing Up Green or Yellow Mucus

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if you are coughing up green or yellow phlegm and:

  • You have difficulty breathing: Especially if you also have chest pain
  • You cough up more than specks of blood: Or repeatedly see blood in the phlegm.
  • Your symptoms continue for three weeks or more

When to see a doctor

Schedule an appointment if you are coughing up green or yellow phlegm and:

  • You feel worse after a few days instead of better
  • You are pregnant
  • You are over 65
  • You have a chronic illness: Such as heart, lung, or kidney disease
  • You have a weakened immune system: Meaning you are undergoing chemotherapy, treatment for diabetes, etc.

At-home treatments

Remedies that you can try at home include the following.

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids
  • A home humidifier may temporarily increase your comfort level
  • Sleep propped up on pillows: Or with the head of your bed raised
  • Pain medication: Use over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to control fever and pain.
  • Use over-the-counter decongestants: These can make it easier to cough up the phlegm in your lungs.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Coughing Up Green Or Yellow Phlegm

  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Do you currently smoke?
  • Have you been in a healthcare facility like a hospital recently?

Self-diagnose with our free if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Share your story
Was this article helpful?
Read this next
Slide 1 of 3