Coughing Up Green Phlegm? Here's What Doctors Want You to Know




If you’ve ever fought a cold or infection in the past, chances are you’ve had the not-so-pleasant experience of coughing up green phlegm. Along with a runny nose and sore throat, green phlegm is another cold-like symptom of COVID-19.

Interestingly, the color of the mucus is an important indicator when it comes to infection. Normally, if you’re healthy then your phlegm is clear. If you’re sick, on the other hand, it can turn to a yellowish or green color when you have a cold or flu. But what is green phlegm, exactly, and do you need to see a doctor about it? Here's everything you need to know about that pleasant green phlegm you're coughing up.

What Is Green Phlegm and What Causes It? 

“Green phlegm comes from white blood cells coming to the sinuses, and releasing the contents of neutrophils,” says Dr. Aaron Hartman, MD a doctor at Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine. “This gives the phlegm its green tint color. So, the first thing to realize is that green phlegm is simply inflammation. It could be bacterial or it could be viral.”

The second reason you have green phlegm could be dehydration. “You can have a normal level of inflammation from dust, mold, allergies, etc. and if you're dehydrated (which happens right now due to the heat) and the relative humidity in most people's homes being about 30% from the heat, they'll get a concentration of the mucus excretions and get a green tint to them,” Dr. Hartman explains.

Related: What Are the Symptoms of Delta Variant COVID, and How Do They Vary From Traditional COVID? 

The big question that comes with that greenness, he adds, is whether or not there's a puss-like, white thick-ish appearance to it. If there is, you know you have a little bit of bacteria in there as well. Bacteria and fungi and yeast commonly live and reside and invade the nasal passageways and sinus cavities, Dr. Hartman adds.

Hence, it’s important to note that discoloration is not always a sign of an infection.

“It just means there's some type of underlying inflammation in the mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue, also referred to as MALT, which is the part of the immune system that lives in your sinuses,” says Dr. Hartman.

How to Get Rid of Green Phlegm

The easiest way to get rid of green phlegm? Flush it out.

“Your body is super smart and knows how to heal itself,” Dr. Hartman explains.  “Sometimes it's as simple as just using something like a neti pot, which is one of those little over-the-counter teacups.”

Here’s what he recommends: Putting distilled water and about a quarter teaspoon of sea salt and flushing your sinuses two to three times a day will rehydrate them. and flush out debris and dead cells. This can help prevent you from getting chronic sinus infections!

Related: Dealing With Pounding Behind Your Eyes? Yep, You've Probably Got a Sinus Headache—Here's How to Get Rid of It 

Pro tip: if you actually have a viral infection in your sinuses, and you want to prevent or kill the virus, you can put a little bit of iodine into the solution— anywhere from five drops up to a teaspoon. Iodine is a very potent antiviral, antibiotic antimicrobial antifungal that is super safe to use. Adding this to the neti pot can be helpful as well.

Another option is adding baking powder (about a quarter teaspoon). “This alkalizes the fluid and helps kill or control inflammation in your sinus passageways,” says Dr. Hartman.

Next, you’ll want to consider using something like Mucinex or Guaifenesin. “This helps keep fluid in your secretions and make them more liquid and flush out easier,” Dr. Hartman explains.

Lastly, don’t forget to hydrate! Research shows that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. “Drinking lots of water, and maybe even adding some trace minerals into it, can help keep you hydrated so that your sinuses can flush appropriately,” says Dr. Hartman. “There’s a host of other over-the-counter products you can use including Colloidal Silver, which is another metal similar to iodine that has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity. This can be added into a neti pot or done by itself as a nasal spray.”

If you're dealing with green phlegm, it's important to get tested for COVID-19 so you can take care of yourself and avoid infecting others.

Next up, here’s what symptoms of COVID-19 look like if you’re vaccinated.


  • Dr. Aaron Hartman, MD at Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine

  • JAMA: “Dehydration. Evaluation and management in older adults. Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association”