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Learn about your coughing up brown-black mucus, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your coughing up brown-black mucus from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Checker

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Your Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus May Also be Known as:
Black mucus cough
Black spots in cough
Brown mucus cough
Brown spots in cough

Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Symptoms

Cough is a bothersome symptom that can be uncomfortable, annoying and contagious. Chronic or severe cough can make it difficult to catch your breath or become painful over time.

Sometimes coughs are dry, but in many cases, they can produce mucus in different colors and consistencies, including white, green, brown and black. The color may be a clue to the underlying cause of the cough.

Brown and black mucus can be related and may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Causes Overview

Coughing is a sign of irritation to the respiratory tract, which includes your throat, windpipe, or trachea, and lungs. Cough helps the body to clear irritants. Mucus is produced to clean, protect and moisten the respiratory tract. Though it can be unsightly, mucus is an important way to fight infection and clear irritants.

In most cases, brown or black mucus is caused by irritation from chemicals or pollution, or by small amounts of blood coming from your irritated airway.

Irritants:

  • Smoking: Cigarette and cigar smoke is extremely irritating to your airways. Not only does it increase your risk of developing mouth, throat and lung cancer, it also deposits tar and other irritants in your lung. This may give mucus a brown or black color.
  • Pollution: When travelling to or living in cities with high levels of pollution, smog can deposit in your nose, mouth and airways. It often appears brown or black when coughed up.
  • Coal mining: Classically called "black lung," this condition occurs in coal miners who inhale dust during their work if they do not wear appropriate protective equipment.
  • Fire: Inhaling smoke when around a fire can burn your airways and also deposit brown or black soot.

Infection:

  • Tuberculosis: This serious lung infection is very contagious and can be fatal if not properly treated. It is caused by bacteria that lie dormant in your body for many years until awakened when your immune system becomes weakened.
  • Fungus: It is unusual to have a fungal infection of your lungs and airways though some are endemic in certain areas such as the Arizona and California desert regions. This can be extremely irritating, leading to inflammation and even bleeding that may appear as a brown tint in mucus.
  • Pneumonia: Pulmonary infections such as pneumonia can cause small amounts of bleeding in the lungs and airways.

Other coughing up brown or black mucus causes:

  • Autoimmune: Certain conditions cause your body to attack its own respiratory system, leading to inflammation and bleeding
  • Blood thinners: Drugs that your doctor prescribes may increase the risk for some bleeding if you have a lung infection or are coughing for some other reason.
  • Heart valve problem: The heart and lungs are closely connected, and if blood cannot flow properly through the heart, it can back up fluid, or edema, into the lungs and may present as bloodstained brownish mucus with a cough.

Top 9 Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Causes

  1. 1.Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is typically caused by a virus.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own by resting, drinking fluids and taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to alleviate fever and discomfort. If the condition lasts longer than a few weeks, or if your symptoms are worsening, you may want to see a doctor who may prescribe an inhaler or pursue other treatment options.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, productive cough, sore throat, wheezing, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Symptoms that always occur with bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold is treated symptomatically. Since this is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective. You can safely treat the symptoms of this condition with over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, antihistamines & cough medicines.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Viral Pneumonia

    Viral pneumonia is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the lungs due to infection with a virus. Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type, which is usually acquired in public areas such as at work, school, or grocery store.

    You should see a care provider to be treated and for evaluation of severity of your symptoms. Viral pneumonia is NOT treated with antibiotics, and you may find over-the-counter medications for pain and fever to be helpful.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite
    Symptoms that never occur with viral pneumonia:
    unexplained bruising
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Bacterial Pneumonia

    Bacterial pneumonia is the infection of the lungs with bacteria (as opposed to a fungus or a virus).

    You should go see a doctor within the next day since this diagnosis requires a chest X-ray in addition to a doctor's assessment. Treatment with antibiotics is important to keeping the infection under control, which can become dangerous if it spreads or worsens within the lungs.

    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

    Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having coughing up brown-black mucus.

    Take a quiz
  5. 5.Chronic Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness.

    You should visit your primary care physician to discuss your symptoms. Treatment often involves prescription inhaler medication.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, productive cough, wheezing, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Acute Viral Sinusitis

    Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus spaces behind the nose and cheeks. These spaces produce mucus, which drains into the nose. If the nose is swollen or if the mucus does not drain, this can block the sinuses and cause pain or infection.

    You can treat your symptoms at home using ibuprofen (for pain) and Tylenol (for a fever). Antibiotics for this diagnosis are not helpful because this is likely a viral infection.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, cough, sore throat, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches
    Symptoms that always occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  7. 7.Benign Cough

    Coughing is a reflex used to keep the throat and airways clear and healthy. When it occurs without fever or other signs of infection, it is considered benign.

    A benign cough does not require medical intervention. If your cough really bothers you, try gargling with saline or an over the counter cough medicine. If your cough changes or you get other symptoms, please check in here again or contact your primary care physician.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, cough with dry or watery sputum, severe cough
    Symptoms that always occur with benign cough:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with benign cough:
    fever, severe cough, being severely ill, coughing up blood
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.Influenza

    Influenza, or Flu, is an infection of the airway caused by the flu virus, which passes through the air and enters the body through the nose or mouth. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but the flu is usually more serious.

    If your flu-like symptoms are existing for less than 48 hours, it might be helpful to seek care by telephone or in a walk-in-clinic to get a course of oseltamivir (Tamiflu). Most people will get better on their own by drinking lots of fluids and taking an over-the-counter medication such as acetominophen (Tylenol) to help with aches or fever.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches
    Symptoms that never occur with influenza:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  9. 9.Condition Causing Abnormal, High - Pitched Breathing

    High-pitched inhaling is called stridor, and requires urgent referral to the ER to see why it's happening

    There may be several explanations for this symptom and its severity, but a healthcare professional should make an assessment as soon as possible because it may be serious.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    high-pitched breathing, severe pelvis pain, arm weakness, chest pain, loss of vision
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service

Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Treatments and Relief

Nearly all causes of coughing up brown or black mucus require a visit to the doctor's office for further evaluation. Testing will be done to determine the underlying cause of your problem, and you can work with your doctor to determine the best treatment plan. In the meantime, there are some steps you can take at home to address the situation as well.

At-home treatments:

  • Stop smoking: If you smoke, there are many reasons to stop. Brown or black mucus is another sign that smoking is harming your body. Keep in mind that it also harms those around you (second-hand smoke), even if they do not smoke themselves.
  • Avoid irritants: If you live in a polluted city, wear a mask and limit your time outside. If your work exposes you to irritants, wear appropriate protective equipment.
  • Cover your mouth: If you have signs of an infection like fever, weight loss, muscle aches or night sweats, be sure to cover your mouth when you cough and stay away from others to avoid spreading the infection.

Professional treatments:

  • Detailed history: Your doctor may ask about your work, travel, recent contacts, smoking habits and other topics.
  • Prescription medications: Antibiotics are appropriate if your doctor suspects an infection. Other drugs can treat inflammation from autoimmune diseases and other problems.
  • Imaging: A chest X-ray is the first-line of testing for most people with cough. Other studies like CT scans may also be ordered and offer a more detailed look at your lungs and airways.
  • Bronchoscopy: In this procedure, a lung doctor inserts a tube, or scope, with a small camera into your airways and lungs to look for the cause of your cough and mucus production. A biopsy may be taken if a suspicious area is noted.

Seek help without delay if you have:

  • Worsening difficulty breathing
  • Cough productive of blood
  • Significant weight loss
  • History of cancer or autoimmune disease
  • Exposure to tuberculosis

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus

  • Q.Is your cough constant or come-and-go?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our coughing up brown-black mucus symptom checker.

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Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced coughing up brown-black mucus have also experienced:

    • 9% Cough
    • 7% Sore Throat
    • 7% Shortness of Breath
  • People who have experienced coughing up brown-black mucus had symptoms persist for:

    • 34% Less Than a Week
    • 22% Two Weeks to a Month
    • 17% One to Two Weeks
  • People who have experienced coughing up brown-black mucus were most often matched with:

    • 19% Common Cold
    • 17% Bronchitis
    • 16% Viral Pneumonia

Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having coughing up brown-black mucus.

Take a quiz