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From pneumonia and even lung cancer – What the colour of your phlegm means

Phlegm is a type of mucus produced in the chest, which we make every day to clear irritations from our throats and keep our airways moist.

Phlegm varies in colors and each color may indicate a certain type of infection or disease.

Here are some of the colors of phlegm and what they could mean.


People with chronic lung disease may cough up a brown sputum. The phlegm is brown because of old blood and is seen in patients suffering from Cystic fibrosis or Bronchiectasis, a chronic lung disease.

If found with the above diseases you may be put on antibiotics to keep things under control.


The type of infection one could be suffering from may not be defined by the color of phlegm alone. Due to this one may need to visit a doctor who may ask several questions that may help reach a conclusion.

After thorough examination the doctor will know whether you need an antibiotic or you should be observed for a few days to see if you can get through the infection without medication.

3. Pink, red or bloody

This type of phlegm may be associated with an infection or even cancer. If you are a smoker it’s even more worrisome and you would need to visit a doctor. In this case you will be examined and a chest X-ray will be conducted before the doctor makes a diagnosis.

4. Charcoal or grey

This type may be seen in people who are heavy smokers or work in coal mines or factories.

Anyone working in a factory where there is a lot of smoke without a mask you could be inhaling all this and causing inflammatory reaction in your airways.

If you work in such an environment you need to practice occupational safety by wearing protective equipment.

It’s the same case for people who smoke three to four packs of cigarettes. If you’re found to have an infection you will be provided with antibiotics.

One thing to note is that how long phlegm lasts in your system depends on the cause.

Bacterial infections may go away within 10-14 days even without antibiotics while viral infections may last up to three weeks depending on the season.

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