What are the Most Common Causes of Yellowish Sputum?

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  • Written By: Jami Yontz
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2019
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Yellowish sputum usually indicates that an infection or inflammation of the respiratory system is present. Other more serious conditions and diseases can cause the body to produce yellow mucus. Sputum, also known as phlegm or mucus, is the body’s way of trapping airborne substances that enter the body through the nose or mouth in mucus, which is then spit out or expelled through the nasal passage. Sputum protects the body against invading bacteria and fungi, and helps physicians determine the type of infection or disease by the color of the sputum.

Phlegm can be caused by a variety of factors, and some yellowish sputum is normal, especially in the morning as the body rids itself of foreign bodies inhaled during the night. Dry air can cause phlegm to have a yellow tint. Most phlegm, if the person is healthy, is clear or white.


Dark yellow mucus is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, a sinus infection, or strep throat. Colds and viruses can cause a person to cough up yellow or green mucus. Drinking large amounts of water will help to reduce the amount of yellow mucus produced if it is caused by the common cold. If the person also has a painful and forceful cough or experiences wheezing, the yellow sputum may be a result of an inflammation of the air passageways in the lungs, known as bronchitis. Pneumonia may result if the inflammation progresses and causes the lungs to become infected.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes thick and sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system, causing blockages. Those with this degenerative disease are frequently afflicted with lung infections and cough up yellowish sputum. Patients may also experience chronic weakness and frequent diarrhea.

Allergy sufferers often cough up yellowish sputum as their body’s immune system attacks normal foreign objects in the environment. Allergies to common substances such as hay, mold, or pollen can cause a person to have cold-like symptoms that include a cough, headache, and watery or itchy eyes. Asthma, the chronic inflammation of the air passageways, could cause a person to cough up yellow phlegm and experience wheezing and shortness of breath.

Sputum can be brown, green, yellow, and even black. If a person coughs up a red substance or bloody mucus, he or she should consult a physician. Phlegm may reflect the color of the substance the person inhaled. Laryngitis, tuberculosis, lung abscesses, or the fungus Pneumocystis carinii may also cause a person to produce colored sputum.


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Discuss this Article

Post 9

I started getting a cold about three or four days ago. y phlegm is yellow,I have body aches, weakness, headache, deep wracking cough, nausea, diarrhea, fever, and pain in my chest. Does this sound like more than a normal cold?

Post 8

I had brown sputum when I had bronchitis. The cough was suffocating me, and I couldn't control it. I felt like I was drowning inside from all the sputum!

Post 7

@seag47 – True, but sometimes, it's helpful to know the color. I am prone to getting sinus infections because of my constant struggle with allergies, and I examine my sputum to know when I have one.

If I blow my nose and yellowish green sputum comes out on the tissue, then I know I have an infection. If it has lasted longer than two weeks, I know that it is most likely a bacterial infection and I will need antibiotics to get rid of it.

Post 6

I started coughing up yellow sputum after mowing the yard one spring day. I ran over weeds that were covered in pollen, and I also hit a couple of ant hills and sent the dirt flying into my face.

The wind was blowing pretty hard that day, so it made things worse. I wasn't wearing a mask, so I inhaled quite a bit of allergens.

I coughed for several hours afterward. I took as many antihistamines as I could, but even they took hours to work. I just had to cough up the irritants, and they were wrapped in yellow sputum.

Post 5

I have honestly never noticed my sputum color. I know that people say it's best to spit it out, because if you swallow it, you still have the infected sputum in your system, but I just can't seem to do it.

It's much less gross to me to go ahead and swallow it. I don't want to have a spit jar full of yellow goo beside my bed. Looking at it would only make me sicker!

Post 4

It's amazing to me how sputum can tell a lot about your health condition just by looking at it. I didn't realize this, so when I'm sick and I cough something up, I rarely bother looking at it. Next time I get sick, I'm definitely going to pay closer attention.

Post 3

I have seasonal allergies, and I've definitely experienced coughing up yellow sputum during a particularly bad season. In fact, the first year it happened I actually went to the doctor because I didn't realize allergies could cause that.

Up until that point, I have mostly experienced sneezing and itchy eyes as seasonal allergy symptoms.

Post 2

@Ted41 - That seems like a good system. As the article said, most of the time if you're coughing up something that's clear, you're fine. However, yellow or green sputum can be caused by infections, viruses, or any number of things. It definitely takes a doctors visit to find out what is causing the problem though.

Post 1

When I was younger and had a cold or respiratory problems, my mom would always use the color of my sputum to decide if we needed to go to the doctor. It sounds gross, but it worked pretty well.

Obviously, if it was clear we would just wait it out. If it was yellow mucus I was coughing up, we would probably go see a doctor. And if it took on that sickly greenish color, a doctor's visit was definitely in order.

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