Read below about 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.

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Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Symptoms

Coughing is a bothersome symptom that can be uncomfortable, annoying, and contagious. Chronic or severe coughing can make it difficult to catch your breath and can 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. Coughing 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 or 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 — or regularly found — 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.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced coughing up brown-black mucus. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  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.

    Symptoms resolve within 1-2 weeks.

    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.Smoking - Induced Cough

    The airways are lined with tiny cells called cilia, whose function is to catch toxins in air that is inhaled and push them up towards the mouth. When smoke is inhaled, the cilia are paralyzed for a short while, so toxins are allowed to enter the lungs and create inflammation. During the night, the cilia repair themselves and begin to push up all the accumulated mucus and toxins, causing an increase in cough in the morning.

    Coughing will diminish within 3 months of quitting smoking.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough
    Symptoms that always occur with smoking-induced cough:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with smoking-induced cough:
    fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Bacterial Pneumonia

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

    1-3 weeks

    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
  4. 4.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.

    Symptoms begin to improve within a few days.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Coughing Up Brown - Black Mucus Checker

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  5. 5.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.

    Symptoms should subside within 7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  6. 6.Common Cold

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

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    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, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  7. 7.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.

    Likely a lifelong condition

    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
  8. 8.Bronchiectasis

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

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Lung Abscess

    An abscess is a collection of pus which results from an infection. A lung abscess may form following an infection such as pneumonia.

    Treatment for up to 6-8 weeks is standard.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    coughing up green or yellow phlegm, rib pain that gets worse when breathing, coughing, sneezing, or laughing, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, coughing up a lot of fluid
    Urgency:
    In-person visit

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 producing 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.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?
  • Q.Do you have a sore throat?

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

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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
    • 5% Shortness of Breath
  • People who have experienced coughing up brown-black mucus had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Less Than a Week
    • 23% Two Weeks to a Month
    • 18% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced coughing up brown-black mucus were most often matched with:

    • 71% Bacterial Pneumonia
    • 14% Bronchitis
    • 14% Smoking - Induced Cough
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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