Read below about coughing up green or yellow phlegm, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your coughing up green or yellow phlegm 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.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Purulent cough

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Coughing Up Green or Yellow Phlegm Symptoms

Virtually everyone has seen, or experienced, a bad cold that has them coughing up phlegm that looks yellowish or greenish in color. These colors are a signal that your cough is likely caused by a bacterial infection, though less commonly a viral infection can produce similar symptoms. It's important to recall that antibiotics can help with a bacterial infection but not with a viral infection.

Producing phlegm and coughing are the body's efforts to gather up the infectious agents and get rid of them. It may be uncomfortable, but coughing may accelerate the overall recovery process, and why your medical provider may not always choose to prescribe a cough suppressant. Phlegm is also called sputum, mucus, or "snot."

Characteristics:

Who is most often affected by coughing up green or yellow phlegm?

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

When is it most likely to occur?

  • When you are in a stressed or weakened condition and exposed to someone else who is ill.
  • Following a viral infection such as a cold, or 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?

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

Coughing Up Green or Yellow Phlegm Causes Overview

Most common cause types:

Mild to moderate bacterial infections, which generally produce yellow phlegm.

  • Acute inflammation of the lungs.
  • Acute inflammation of the larynx (the voice box), producing a very hoarse voice (laryngitis).
  • Chronic sinus infections (sinusitis).

Less common cause types:

Severe bacterial infections, which tend to produce green phlegm.

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

Viral illnesses, congenital illnesses, and damage to the lungs.

  • Viral upper respiratory infection (URI), also known as "a cold." Whitish-yellow sputum may appear with a cold.
  • Viral infections of the lungs may produce small amounts of yellow-white phlegm and a low-grade fever.
  • Damage to the lungs from repeated inflammation (bronchiectasis), making it difficult to expel the mucus normally and causing heavy coughing. This is sometimes due to a congenital condition.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Coughing Up Green or Yellow Phlegm

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced coughing up green or yellow phlegm. 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.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
  3. 3.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
  4. 4.Tuberculosis

    Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which most commonly affects the lungs, although it can also affect other organs in the body. The bacteria can lie dormant in the body for a long time (even years), until they start causing symptoms such as cough, fever, loss of appetite, and night sweats.

    >6 months treatment with antibiotics.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, rib pain, dry cough
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  5. 5.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.

    8 days with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, fever, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Coughing Up Green or Yellow Phlegm Checker

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  6. 6.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
  7. 7.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.

    Depends on treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, worsening cough, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  8. 8.Acute Bacterial Sinusitis

    Acute bacterial sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become infected and, in turn, inflamed, which causes pain and other symptoms. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face that are generally clean and empty but when they're sick collect excess mucus and can become infected. When your symptoms are persisting for 10 days or more or are getting worse over time, it's more likely that you'll have a bacterial infection as compared to a viral infection.

    7-15 days

    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
  9. 9.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.

    Problem goes away completely after surgery.

    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
  10. 10.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 Green or Yellow Phlegm Treatments and Relief

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.

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.

Remedies that you can try at home:

  • 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.
  • Use over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to control fever and pain.
  • Use over-the-counter decongestants to make it easier to cough up the phlegm in your lungs.

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

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

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our coughing up green or yellow phlegm symptom checker to find out more.

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Coughing Up Green or Yellow Phlegm Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced coughing up green or yellow phlegm have also experienced:

    • 16% Cough
    • 8% Sore Throat
    • 6% Congestion
  • People who have experienced coughing up green or yellow phlegm had symptoms persist for:

    • 43% Less Than a Week
    • 15% One to Two Weeks
    • 15% Two Weeks to a Month
  • People who have experienced coughing up green or yellow phlegm were most often matched with:

    • 55% Bacterial Pneumonia
    • 33% Chronic Bronchitis
    • 11% Bronchitis
  • 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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