Causes Of Phlegm

What Causes Phlegm?


Often, people puzzle over the question as to the causes of phlegm; thinking that it is the result of some underlying problem.  What they fail to consider is that the body continually produces phlegm in a beneficial manner, and that it is only the overproduction of phlegm that is an issue.


Mucus is a means of lubrication and protection for the interior of the body.  It is vital in keeping the body tissues moist as well as used in the lungs to collect and trap dirt, dust, pollen, bacteria and other airborne matter that could make its way into our lungs as we breathe.  It is a compilation of salt, water, protein, carbohydrates and tissue cells.  Mucus is produced by goblet cells in the mucous membranes all over the body, and can be found in any cavity that is exposed to our surroundings.   This includes the nostrils, the lips, the mouth, ears, genital areas and the anus.  Our digestive and respiratory tracts, which receive air and other elements from the outside, are also supplied with mucus.  The mucus that is produced has the capability of absorbing a great deal of fluid.  The lungs are especially dependent upon this mucus to remove damaging elements that could potentially cause infections and inflammation.  To expel the mucus from the lungs, we cough; the substance that is brought up is referred to as phlegm.


While producing phlegm is a natural process for the body, there are circumstances when too much is produced.  Causes of phlegm that is produced in excess are varied, but there are common reasons.  Infections that affect the airways, such as bronchitis, colds or influenza, are the most frequent reasons that phlegm is created, designed to carry away the irritants.  The second most common cause is cigarette smoking; a damaging habit in which an individual deliberately inhales smoke that irritates the linings of the trachea and bronchi.  Another much more rare cause of the production is a condition called bronchorrhoea. 


The mucus that is expelled through a throat clearing or cough can be a definitive tell of what is going on within the lungs.  When the color of the phlegm is white or yellowish, this could indicate that a bacterial infection is present with pus.  A viral infection is generally accompanied by clear mucus.  Some people experience phlegm that has a greenish hue; an indication of the presence of bacteria called Pseudomonas pyocyanea.  These bacteria are traditionally found in cases of cystic fibrosis.  Brownish colored phlegm is a sign of a cigarette smoker.  Smokers could also have black mucus, although this color of phlegm is more closely associated with coal miners; hence the term “black lung” disease.  If a hemorrhage has occurred in the lungs, blood will mix with the phlegm and cause it to be red in color.   When attempting to determine the causes of phlegm production, doctors will often examine and test the mucus.


Those who experience an abundance of phlegm that is accompanied by fever, chills, sneezing and coughing should consult with their doctor to ensure that no infections are present.  These symptoms could be signs of a bacterial infection or allergies that are creating havoc within the body and can be controlled with certain medications.  Any underlying causes for excess production can be discovered through testing of the mucus.  For others who only infrequently and temporarily endure phlegm likely do not need medical attention, but should avoid smoky or dusty environments that could further aggravate the lungs.


Producing mucus in the lungs is normal and vital to our overall health.  The causes may be indicative of more serious issues, but can generally be attributed to colds the result of cigarette smoking; the art of the body operating as it should.