Mucus is a moist film, which helps keep your nose from drying out and protect your lungs from foreign substances, such as bacteria, viruses, dust, and other harmful intruders. It keeps you healthy but you may only notice it whenever you are sick. Mucus becomes thicker when you are sick, making it more difficult to clear.
You may also notice a color change in your mucus when you are sick. When you are coughing up green mucus, it usually indicates that your immune system is at work. This specific color is due to a type of white blood cell called neutrophil, which fights infections.
However, there is a belief that green mucus indicates a long-standing infection, which is not always the case. The color change is not only because of bacteria but for many different reasons. When your body is attacked by foreign invaders such as germs, your immune system sends neutrophils to fight them. There is an enzyme called myeloperoxidase (MPO) present in these neutrophils that help turn the mucus green in color. The mucus will become even greener if more of this enzyme is present in these WBCs.
The presence of neutrophils causes the mucus to initially turn yellow when the infection or inflammation is in the acute stage. However, mucus turns green when there is a prolonged inflammatory response.
Causes of Green Mucus
Certain conditions, especially respiratory conditions, trigger the excessive production of mucus. In rare cases, the secretion may originate from the upper esophagus. The following respiratory conditions are known to cause green mucus:
Different irritants such as air pollutants and cigarette smoking may cause the airways to the lungs to get inflamed. Short-term bronchitis usually lasts for three months but when it lasts for months to years, it is considered chronic. When the lining of the respiratory tract gets inflamed, it leads to restriction of airflow and excess mucus production.
Antibiotics are not usually prescribed for the treatment of this condition, especially if it is caused by a virus. Without using any mainstream treatment, the body is capable of expelling green mucus in small amounts. Treatment for this condition may include home remedies, such as drinking plenty of fluids and resting, as well as taking over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to help reduce fever and discomfort. However, it's time to see a doctor if your symptoms last for more than a few weeks or if you have worsening symptoms.
2. Lung Abscess
A collection of pus due to an infection is called an abscess. A lung abscess is an infection that develops in the lung tissues. Tissues die because of the infection, resulting in the collection of pus. A lung abscess may also develop following a lung infection called pneumonia.
The most common symptoms of this condition are coughing up yellow to green-colored phlegm, coughing, sneezing, worsening rib pain when coughing, laughing, or breathing, unexplained weight loss, high fever, and night sweats. If you have any of these symptoms, it is quite important to see your doctor within the next 24 hours for proper diagnosis and prompt treatment. Treatment for this condition requires an antibiotic prescription.
Also commonly called as a sinus infection, sinusitis is the inflammation of the sinuses caused by viruses, bacteria, or allergies. When sinus infections are caused by bacteria, a green-colored mucus may be noticed along with other symptoms, such as pressure in the sinus cavities, postnasal drip, and nasal congestion. Other symptoms may include a clogged nose, thick nasal mucus, facial pain, headache, a sore throat, cough, and fever.
Pneumonia is a type of lung infection that can affect one or both lungs. This lung infection can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. However, the most common type of pneumonia in adults is caused by bacteria. In this condition, the air sacs in the lungs called alveoli are inflamed and filled with pus or fluids, making it hard to breathe.
Pneumonia may also be a complication of other respiratory conditions. When you have pneumonia, you may cough up mucus that is green in color. However, the symptoms may also vary and usually depend on the type of pneumonia you have. The most common symptoms experienced in all types of pneumonia are fever, chills, cough, and shortness of breath.
5. Cystic Fibrosis (CF)
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition characterized by mucus buildup in the lungs and other organs in the body. It also causes a variety of mucus colors ranging from yellow to green and brown. People with CF usually have a limited ability to breathe due to the thick and sticky buildup of mucus in their lungs.
6. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a type of lung disease, which causes difficulty in breathing. The most common symptoms of COPD are trouble breathing, shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, and sleeping difficulty. A worsening COPD requires emergency medical attention. Seek immediate medical help if you have trouble breathing.
The following are some remedies you can do at home to help ease the discomfort of coughing:
- Keeping yourself hydrated - Mucus can be thinned and loosened by drinking plenty of water. In this way, it becomes easier to cough out excess mucus. Drinking warm water or consuming chicken soup are also good options when it comes to upper respiratory tract infections.
- Take bromelain supplements - Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapple. According to studies, inflammation and sinusitis can be relieved by bromelain.
- Quit smoking - A range of respiratory problems can occur in heavy smokers. These problems include increased phlegm production and a persistent cough.
- Avoid certain foods - Certain types of food can trigger an allergic reaction and boost the production of mucus in the body. These foods include milk and other dairy products, refined carbohydrates, cured meats, and other foods high in sodium.
- Gargle with salt water - A salt water gargle can help relieve inflammation and fight infections.
- Use thyme - Thyme is a natural and effective remedy for both short-term and chronic bronchitis. According to one study, the production of mucus could be reduced when thyme and primrose are used together and consumed as a tea.