Mucus / Phlegm Diagnosis
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Mucus / Phlegm Diagnosis

What is mucus? Different color phlegm (sputum, or mucus) can indicate what type of respiratory infection you may have, how it is progressing and even if it is bacterial or viral in nature. Upstanding the color of the color of the sputum is a first-step in diagnosing a treatment.


We're Not Out of the Cold & Flu Season Yet

Flu and Upper Respiratory infections are all an expected part of the seasonal changes. While you can catch flu at any time of the year it is most prevalent during the winter months when people are forced to be closer confines such as in the home, during travel & commutes, and when the kids return to school. This usually a primary vector of colds and flu; your children and playing and interacting with other children.

One infected child not yet showing symptoms innocently spreads the bacteria and viruses to another child, and so forth. The child comes home and now it becomes the parent's turn to be infected.

Sinus Infection: What is Mucus? Symptoms of Colds and Flu

One of the first signs along with body aches and scratchy, itchy eyes tends to be nasal discharge. The sputum is a liquid material that comes from the respiratory tract. Containing mucus (also called phlegm) and often mixed with saliva, this thick liquid comes from the air passages, bronchi, or upper respiratory tract.

The sputum contains things like lipids, glycoprotein and immunoglobins (antibodies) all help to rid the upper respiratory tract of bacteria and viruses.

Failing that, the color of the sputum can tell a doctor many things. If it is clear, this indicates a general state of health. But different colors and textures can indicate type of illness, condition and amazingly, it can even serve as an indicator of how advanced the infection is and whether the patient is getting better, or getting worse.

Colors of Expelled Phlegm (Mucus from the Lungs)

  • Clear Phlegm indicates no major infection. One can be infected at this stage but their body has not yet mounted an adequate defense. Sufferers of viral infections such as a cold will also exhibit clear mucus. There are no reliable treatments for viral infections other than to just wait it out, take pain relievers like aspirin and get lots of rest.
  • White/Milky or Cloudy phlegm tends to be an indicator of a viral infection, for which no antibiotic will be effective. Similar to white/milky and cloudy phlegm, if the phlegm is foamy-white in appearance it can be an indicator of an obstruction, or possible water-retention (edema.)
  • Yellow Phlegm coughed or spit from the throat or lungs is an indicator that your immune system is battling an infection. Yellow at this stage can signal either the beginning of an infection, or towards the end of an infection as your immune system is winning over the infection.
  • Green Phlegm is present during the height and duration of the upper respiratory and sinusitis infection. Your body is working at maximum to fight the invading virus or bacteria. At this stage, antibiotics are probably required.
  • Brown, Burgundy phlegm are more serious indicators of respiratory infection and likely require a consultation with your family doctor. Antibiotics are most certainly going to be prescribed.

It is not uncommon to see red spots or even little smears of blood in expectorated sputum. Minor tearing damage to delicate bronchi and upper respiratory structures can occur with prolonged coughing and expulsion of accumulated sputum.

Generally, a few spots or streaks of bright red blood and nothing to be very concerned about. Rusty-colored phlegm can be an indicator of pneumonia. This indicates a prolonged bleeding and regular accumulation & mixing of blood with phlegm and is a very strong warning sign to seek professional diagnosis.

  • Orange-color phlegm for as bizarre as it sounds, does exist. While considered to be rather rare, the exact cause of orange-colored phlegm is not fully understood. What is known is that it is produced during an acute upper-respiratory infection such as Legionella pneumophila ("Legionnaire's Disease".)

Beginning with a brown to brownish-orange color, the patient's phlegm turns progressively orange over the course of several days to a week or longer. The orange color is not understood, but it is believed to be some byproduct excreted by the specific bacteria responsible.

Tests of the phlegm are required along with blood and urine samples to diagnose the infective agent and a course of treatment can be implemented.

Flu Vaccinations and the 2010-2011 Flu Season

As we began, it was stated that we are not out of this year's flu season yet. Curiously though, there are fewer people getting vaccinated against the flu than in previous years.

It is believed that the intense fear and ultimate failure of last years H1N1 Flu Epidemic to manifest itself has allayed the fears of many who this year, chose to not get vaccinated. The revelation of the recently discredited study linking vaccination to autism has also done almost irreparable damage to consumer confidence in vaccinations. Trust in vaccinations has not be lower in many years and we may realize a terrible toll on the health-care system in coming flu seasons. Flu vaccines are cheap. Far cheaper than being sick.

Getting vaccinated against the regional flu is still a very safe and smart thing to do. Avoid getting sick, avoid being the reason why other people get sick. Get your flu shots and observe healthy personal habits like washing hands often, and keeping your hands and fingers away from your mouth, nose and eyes.

Let's all try to stay healthy.

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Comments (4)

THANK YOU for NOT including pictures!

Ranked #19 in Flu & Cold

Yeah! Some of the images I looked at for this ...nuh-uh! -Not in this article! :-\

Thanks. This is very helpful as I'm down with flu right now.

I would like to add some information. My dad has always coughed up phlegm. He recently was coughing up discolored phlegm, along with vomiting colored material. Causes: He was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the color was due to tumor bleeding. He continued and then cause was due to esophageal stent moving. Then, before he was discharged after fixing the stent, again the same thing. This time it was not anything to do with the cancer, a cold, the flu, or sinuses. The colored phlegm and vomiting was due to a bowel obstruction. The rusty/dark color was due to body wastes coming up with the coughing and the vomiting.