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What can the different colors of catarrh indicate

When the phlegm is colored or very thick it may be a sign of allergy, sinusitis, pneumonia, some other airway infections or even cancer.

Therefore, when phlegm is not a clear, almost liquid discharge, it may be important to see a pulmonologist to begin treatment as soon as possible to avoid aggravation of the problem, especially when dealing with bedridden people, young children or the elderly.

1. Green or yellow catarrh

What can the different colors of catarrh indicate

These colors usually arise when neutrophils are present in the airways, which are defense cells of the body that produce a green protein that is dissolved in catarrh, and the color varies according to the amount of the protein. So this type of catarrh can indicate an infection in the airways or nasal sinuses, like pharyngitis or pneumonia, for example.

What to do: A pulmonologist or general practitioner should be consulted to identify the type of infection causing the catarrh and to begin treatment with the appropriate antibiotic.

2. Red catarrh or catarrh with blood

What can the different colors of catarrh indicate

When the blood present in the catarrh is in small quantities it is usually a sign of bronchitis. When the amount of blood is in greater quantities it may indicate more serious problems such as tuberculosis, pneumonia or lung cancer.

What to do:  You should consult a pulmonologist to do diagnostic tests, like X-ray, microbiological assessment from the catarrh to identify the problem and initiate appropriate treatment, which is usually done with bronchodilators in the case of bronchitis or antibiotics in the case of tuberculosis, and treatment should be done as indicated by the physician.

3. White or grey catarrh

What can the different colors of catarrh indicate

This type of catarrh is usually a sign of an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, but may also arise during an influenza or sinus infection, when the sinuses become very full and begin to drain into the throat.

In rare cases, this coloration can also occur when eating too many dairy products, as the milk derivatives make the catarrh thicker, presenting a whitish color when it is eliminated.

What to do: You should drink about 2 liters of water a day, which can help to eliminate the catarrh, and if there are no improvements, you should consult a general practitioner to start treatment for the problem that is causing the catarrh.

In cases of influenza, for example, the treatment goal is to relieve the symptoms, and the doctor recommends the use of Paracetamol or Ibuprofen, for example. Sinusitis can also be treated in this way, but the doctor may also recommend the use of corticosteroids or antibiotics depending on the cause of sinusitis.

4. Brown or black catarrh

What can the different colors of catarrh indicate

Smokers and people who work in polluted areas, like mines and quarries, normally have brown or black catarrh. This happens because particles such as tar or resin stick to the airways. In addition, brown catarrh can also arise due to the ingestion of some foods, such as chocolate, coffee or red wine, for example

What to do:  It is recommended you avoid areas with a lot of pollution or dust, and stop smoking, if it your case.

5. Pink catarrh

What can the different colors of catarrh indicate

Cough with pink catarrh is usually an indicator that there is fluid in the lungs and is therefore very common in cases of heart problems, such as heart failure, in which blood collects around the lungs, causing fluid to enter the lungs.

What to do: In this case it is important to consult a pulmonologist or general cardiologist to adjust the treatment of the problem that is causing pink catarrh, which can be done with the intake of diuretic medication such as Furosemide in cases of heart problems.

What can catarrh consistency indicate

Normal catarrh has a more liquid consistency and is easily reabsorbed by the body and doesn't complicate breathing. But catarrh can become thicker in situations like:

  • Being in a dry environment, such as a room with air conditioning;
  • Not drinking enough water during the day;
  • Having a respiratory allergy to pollen or dust, for example:
  • Taking medication that can dry secretions, like antidepressants, antihistamines or nasal decongestants.

In addition, catarrh also gets thicker during flu or colds, for example, but any other infection can also have this result. This is because the body has more work to eliminate viruses and bacteria and therefore needs more water to function, leaving the catarrh drier.

Thick catarrh can lodge itself in the throat turning breathing difficult, making the voice hoarse and for it to be eliminated it is very important to drink about 2 liters of water a day and do nebulizations with water or saline, because it may help to fluidize the secretions and facilitates their elimination. 


  • NHS. Signs and Symptoms of Chest Infections. 2017. Link: <www.wsh.nhs.uk>. Access in 09 Oct 2019
  • WEBMD. What Your Mucus Says About Your Health. Link: <symptoms.webmd.com>. Access in 09 Oct 2019
  • HEALTHLINE. Yellow, Brown, Green, and More: What Does the Color of My Phlegm Mean?. Link: <www.healthline.com>. Access in 09 Oct 2019
  • HARVARD HEALTH PUBLISHING. Don’t judge your mucus by its color. 2016. Link: <www.health.harvard.edu>. Access in 13 Nov 2019
  • GIRÓN, RafaeL; MARTÍNEZ-TORRE, Santiago. Black-pigmented sputum. J Cytol. Vol.30. 4.ed; 274-275, 2013
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