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What are the Most Common Causes of Green Sputum?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Green sputum is often caused by a bacterial infection, though it also may appear several days in to a viral infection. If the sputum is this color from the beginning of symptoms, it is more likely to be the result of bacteria. It can be the result of a respiratory infection or post nasal drip from a sinus infection, although pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinusitis are all other common causes.

Sputum itself is typically made up of mucus secretions from the respiratory system, in addition to drainage from the sinuses. Many respiratory infections can result in the inflammation of the mucus membranes, which produce excess mucus. This excess is often expelled from the lungs through coughing, and can become mixed with post nasal drip to become sputum, which may be swallowed or spit out. A green color often indicates a bacterial infection within the respiratory system or the sinuses, though in some cases, the cause may be viral or environmental.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the mucus membranes within the lungs, and may have viral, bacterial, or environmental causes. A small portion of the cases of acute bronchitis are caused by bacteria and will typically produce green phlegm. The chronic form, however, will often have environmental causes and can cause sufferers to cough up sputum for several months a year for years at a time. Root causes of chronic bronchitis and the phlegm it produces can be anything from cigarette smoke to excessive atmospheric pollution.

Another common cause of green sputum is sinusitis. This infection of the sinuses will typically result in some form of post nasal drip. A bacterial infection will usually cause green discharge, though viral sinusitis may also result in a similar coloration. Sinus infections can cause the nasal passageways to become clogged, allowing the mucus to become stagnant. Like bronchitis, sinusitis has both acute and chronic forms. Chronic sinusitis may have environmental or physiological causes, and internal problems with the nasal passages may be at fault.

Any infection or irritation to the upper or lower respiratory system can ultimately result in green sputum. In cases where the onset of illness are accompanied by clear sputum, taking nasal decongestants may help prevent it by promoting proper drainage. When a cough is producing green discharge, it is important for patients to avoid taking any medication that suppresses the cough. This may interfere with the natural ability of the body to discharge irritants, and may result in more severe illnesses, such as pneumonia.

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Discussion Comments
By anon924554 — On Jan 05, 2014

I have no symptoms other than green mucus in my nose. It turns crusty usually in morning with spots of blood. Anyone know?

By anon339760 — On Jun 26, 2013

I was diagnosed with pneumonia in early May 2013, which evolved to a sinus infection six weeks later and I am still coughing up green mucus. I also went through a course of antibiotics. It just seems like it is never going to end.

By lighth0se33 — On Jan 20, 2013

I have allergies, so I deal with sinus infections at least once a year. I have both green mucus and green sputum with these.

It starts out with nasal congestion, but it dries up later and becomes hard strings of mucus that get stuck in my nose. They range from bright yellow to green, and I have to blow my nose often to get them out.

Sometimes, one or both ears will hurt, too. I start coughing up yellow and green sputum.

If the infection lasts longer than a couple of weeks, I have to get some antibiotics. The ones that only last a couple of weeks are viral, so antibiotics wouldn't help with those.

By healthy4life — On Jan 20, 2013

My dad had green sputum with his cough when he had pneumonia. He had to be hospitalized because it was so severe.

Of course, his age had something to do with the severity of the infection. He was in his seventies, after all.

He made a full recovery. It took around the clock care and intravenous medicine to do the trick, though.

By orangey03 — On Jan 19, 2013

@Oceana – I would say yes. I've had yellow sputum change to green after a few days with what I thought was a cold, and I was sick for a couple of months because I waited so long to see a doctor.

I kept thinking it would get better if I just waited it out. My little sore throat and nasal congestion turned into bronchitis. I began coughing so much that I couldn't get a good breath without having an episode.

I couldn't sleep at night because I couldn't breathe properly. I felt like I was suffocating in a sea of green phlegm.

After I had been on antibiotics for several days, I started to feel a little better. However, the cough didn't go away entirely until a couple of months later.

By Oceana — On Jan 19, 2013

So, if my sputum color changes from yellow to green when I'm sick with some sort of respiratory problem, should I see a doctor? Does having a bacterial infection mean that I need antibiotics in order to get better? I don't want to make myself worse by waiting too long to do anything about it.

By anon310385 — On Dec 22, 2012

Some symptoms are weak enough that you can just hop to work in the morning or stop by to get groceries. The problem with this is that you spread the bacteria/virus to other people. They may not be as strong. Also, the symptoms usually worsen after a week or so. Then, it becomes problematic and you may finally go to the doctor.

By Cruze — On May 12, 2011

@Andrade- My husband had the same problem with coughing up green mucous in the morning. He went to the doctor who ordered a sputum culture. He was required to cough a sample into a cup, which was then tested for fungi, bacteria, and tuberculosis.

The sample was also tested to determine which antibiotic would best treat it. The results came back within a week, showing he had a bacterial infection, which has now been treated, but the doctor said it could have turned into pneumonia. Just like the article says, green sputum can be a sign of a serious problem. You should go to your doctor.

By Andrade — On May 10, 2011

I’ve been coughing up phlegm every morning for the past month or so. It’s only in the morning and sometimes it’s green and sometimes it's brown. I don’t feel sick, in fact I feel great, but I’m wondering if anyone else does this?

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