Coughing up Brown Mucus – Is It a Sign of a Serious Problem?
Most of the time, throat mucus is nothing to worry about, and it’s actually really handy. It serves as a protective lubricant for the throat which keeps everything moist and supple and prevents dryness that can lead to irritation. And, it’s also useful to remove and carry away bacteria and dirt that can cause illness and infection. Most of the time, throat mucus is colorless or slightly milky. However, sometimes, throat mucus color can change, and this can be alarming. One of the most notable shades of interest is brown. And, coughing up brown mucus can signal everything from serious health conditions to everyday and common causes.
A cough or cold isn’t always required to produce phlegm or mucus. In fact, coughing up mucus can occur when there is no illness or sickness present. The source of a cough that produces mucus has to do with irritation within the throat. When irritation creates the urge, a cough occurs whether or not there is a bacterial or viral cause or source. As such, coughing up mucus is not a surefire indicator that illness is present and, neither is coughing up brown mucus.
SinusWars.com explains a number of very common things that can cause brown phlegm to occur. For instance, breathing in abundant amounts of dirt and dust can cause a temporary change in color for the jelly like fluid produced in mucus membranes. And of course, cigarette smokers can very frequently encounter brown phlegm as a result of the consistently inhaled smoke and pollutants, which can lead to coughing up brown mucus in smokers who have a persistent cough. Food can be another contributing factor to the production of brown phlegm, with foods like chocolate and beverages like coffee and tea providing a temporary paint job to internally produced mucus. Sinus wars also mentions frequent alcohol users that are more likely to encounter bouts of coughing up brown mucus, due to inflammation of the bronchi and throat. Another common cause of brown mucus is blood and, more specifically old blood or dried blood. When bleeding occurs even in small amounts in the nose or throat, it can mix with the mucus in the area. This can lead to brown mucus from nose areas as well as it appearing in the sputum produced from coughing.
But, there are more sinister underlying causes to shades of light to dark brown mucus. MSN Healthy Living points out that coughing up brown mucus, as well as that which is yellow or green, can be a symptom of pneumonia, which is a serious health concern. And, while coughing up yellow mucus may be more common than brown in pneumonia sufferers, both should be considered potential warning signs if other symptoms are present such as high fever or the shakes. Emphysema and bronchitis symptoms can include coughs that produce varying shades of phlegm that can include green, yellow, white, tan and dark brown mucus. And, both of these conditions can lead to COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder).
Unfortunately, there is an even more ominous health condition that can carry coughing up brown mucus as a symptom, and that is lung cancer. The Free Dictionary explains that nearly 90% of lung cancer is caused from tobacco smoking, and that it affects more men than women. Among the symptoms that are often present, (in later stages as early detection is uncommon in the disease which can take years to develop) a cough that does not go away and bouts of chest pain are typical. And, weight loss, fever, fatigue and hoarseness can also occur. Of course, brown or bloody phlegm is also not uncommon if symptoms are evident.
There is nothing about mucus specifically that makes it a very effective diagnostic tool. Color changes are good at providing clues as to whether or not there is something wrong, but offer little in the way of identifying that which is. Therefore, it’s important that other accompanying symptoms be evaluated alongside the change in mucus hue. When there are no symptoms present aside from the brown mucus, it’s possible that it’s merely a result of environmental or lifestyle factors. But, if it’s persistent, recurrent, worsening or also has other symptoms tagging along such as fever, chest pain, shortness of breath or anything else that can be considered unusual, it’s best to schedule an appointment with a health care provider.