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Considerations For When You’re Coughing Up Mucus

I have been going through a particularly rough and different (for me) exacerbation. It likely started with something viral, adding a biologic washout to the mix, and then my eosinophils that went haywire. A perfect combination for my exacerbation.

I honestly thought perhaps my control was just slipping – but nope, it was a full-blown exacerbation. It was manageable till the strange rib pain, which I thought was the usual intercostal muscle strain from coughing. I would later find out that it was, indeed, a rib fracture.

Coughing up mucus

What makes this experience different is the sheer volume of mucus plugs that I am bringing up. This is not surprising since I am having a particularly terrible bought of mucus hypersecretion. However, I don’t think I have experienced bringing up so many degenerated mucus bits. They are absolutely weird. They feel hard, dehydrated and almost granular. Yes, I touched them. If you are grossed out by spit and sputum, try not to visualize.

Mucus is made up of mucins, water, ions, proteins, and lipids.1 I want to know how mucus plugs die or what makes them so hard inside when they degenerate. I am assuming that I will need to find some form of physiologist or biologist to help me with that one.

Identifying my mucus

As a general guideline, researchers have used the color and odor to help identify underlying causes. Coughing up mucus that is green may indicate an infection, while brown flakes may be present in aspergillosis.1 These would need to be confirmed by a clinician, as all sputum is not the same. 

I feel that if it comes out of me, I should be prepared to at least see what it is. These are also the things that I cannot always produce on-demand when I am in the clinic and I want to be able to describe them my specialist. I know that observations by the naked eye are not conclusive, but hopefully they are helpful, even just for my notes.

Back to my coughing experience

I felt as if I had reverted to my childhood. To one of those moments where you feel unwell at school and then come home and get in your pajamas. Except for now, I was home from work, in my sweats and working in bed. I had been coughing up mucus bits throughout the day before being overtaken by coughing. Coughing is generally a good thing to get mucus moving in and out of our lungs. Unfortunately, it can also be a bad thing, especially when you are coughing excessively. I already had a rib fracture, ouch!

For the second time in a day, I had coughed up so much that I was vomiting. There went my lunch, clean comfy clothes. Thank goodness I managed to save the sheets! Once I had got cleaned up and sanitized the area it was back to trying to rest my fracture and treating the coughing, so could induce the least amount of pain possible.

Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your mucus

It is important to have any change in symptoms evaluated by a medical professional. In my case, my respirologist is monitoring me. I will be following up with a chest x-ray, sputum induction, and spirometry. I am hoping to find out about sputum and I promise to report back. Stay tuned!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Panchabhai TS, Mukhopadhyay S, Sehgal S, Bandyopadhyay D, Erzurum SC, Mehta AC. Plugs of the air passages: A clinicopathologic review. Chest. 2016;150(5):1141–1157.

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