Dry, chesty, tickly or mucus cough? This is what it means if you cough up green phlegm

Most coughs are caused by cold or flu and clear up within three weeks. 

But a persistent cough, with a buildup of mucus in your chest, can have a big impact on your quality of life. 

In some instances with a mucus cough, the mucus you cough up may be green in colour. 

But what does it mean and should you be worried by this? 

Phlegm is a type of mucus made in your chest, and while green-coloured phlegm may be alarming, it’s usually a sign your body is fighting an infection.

Dr Andrew Thornber, Now Healthcare Group Chief Medical Officer, explained: “Your mucus can change colour when you’re sick. Green mucus is a sign that your body’s immune system is at work. 

“The colour comes from a type of infection-fighting white blood cell.” 

While it’s usually nothing to worry about, green or yellow mucus can indicate a chest infection.

The NHS lists the following symptoms of a chest infection: 

  • Chesty cough - you may cough up green or yellow mucus 
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath 
  • Chest pain or discomfort 
  • High temperature (fever) of 38C or above 
  • Headache 
  • Aching muscles 
  • Tiredness 

A pharmacist can help with a chest infection by suggesting decongestant treatments to help lessen the mucus in your lungs so it’s easier to cough up. 

By coughing up the mucus this will help clear the infection from your lungs. 

This is when you should see a GP if you have a chest infection: 

  • You feel very unwell or your symptoms get worse 
  • You cough up blood or blood-stained mucus 
  • You’ve had a cough for more than three weeks 
  • You’re pregnant 
  • You’re over 65 
  • Your immune system is weak - for example you have a condition like diabetes or you’re having chemotherapy 
  • You have a long-term health condition, such as a heart, lung or kidney condition 

If your symptoms are severe you may have pneumonia. 

While reaching for the medicine cabinet may seem like your first port of call with a mucus cough, a doctor has recommended a simple hot drink as the solution.

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