Are you experiencing yellow nasal mucus or are you coughing up yellow mucus? What does yellow mucus mean, should you contact your doctor ASAP? If you’re wondering about these questions, this article will give you a general overview on the possible causes and treatment options of yellow mucus.
- 1 Yellow Nasal Mucus (Snot)
- 2 What Yellow Nasal Mucus Says About Your Health
- 3 How To Get Rid Of Yellow Nasal Mucus
- 4 Coughing Up Yellow Mucus
- 5 Causes of Coughing Up Yellow Phlegm?
- 6 Home Care Treatments for Cough with Yellow Phlegm
- 6.1 Take the appropriate medicines for your condition
- 6.2 Drink adequate amounts of fluids
- 6.3 Perform controlled deep coughing and breathing daily
- 6.4 Drain the mucus out of your lungs through postural drainage
- 6.5 Ask someone to give you a “tap on the back”
- 6.6 Use healing herbs and foods
- 6.7 Conclusion
Yellow Nasal Mucus (Snot)
It’s normal for your nose to produce clear and liquid mucus everyday. Healthy individuals make around 1.7 liters (or enough to fill one kettle) of it each day. Normal mucus is typically water that contains dissolved salts, antibodies, and proteins.
However, there are times when your body produces excessive amounts of nasal mucus (more than 1.7 liters per day), which could become thicker, stickier, and changes in color (clear to yellow to green). You could also experience other symptoms, such as headaches, facial pain, nasal congestion, and fatigue, among others.
Check out our other article about green snot, its causes, and how to treat it.
What Yellow Nasal Mucus Says About Your Health
When you have a cold, there’s usually swelling involved. This swelling could block your sinuses, the hollow cavities in the bones of your face or skull, and prevent proper flow of mucus. This stagnant mucus in the sinuses encourages the growth of bacteria, causing inflammation of their tissue lining (sinusitis). One of the early symptoms of sinusitis is yellowish or greenish nasal mucus, accompanied by facial pain (around the cheeks, eyes, or forehead).
But, contrary to popular belief, the reason mucus from the nose changes its color from yellow to green is not bacteria. It’s actually because of white blood cells, which protect your body from diseases and infections. These cells have a greenish-colored enzyme. So, as the cold progresses, more white blood cells flood the site of infection, causing the mucus to become thicker and yellow, and eventually green.
Bottom line: Yellow mucus means your cold or respiratory infection is progressing. And when your nasal mucus turns green, it could mean your body’s immune system is in a state of complete war with the disease-causing germ.
Now that you know why your nasal mucus changes its color to yellow, how do you get rid of it?
How To Get Rid Of Yellow Nasal Mucus
Relax, observe, and wait
Yellow mucus doesn’t always indicate a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. According to the guidelines released by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, antibiotics don’t possess any greater benefit, at least when it comes to treating bacterial sinusitis.
The foundation suggests to people with sinusitis to observe and wait before taking antibiotics—even if they’re sick and have a high temperature.
How long do you need to keep waiting? For acute sinusitis, the guidelines suggest you should wait another seven days after its symptoms subsided, which could last approximately ten days or more. If symptoms still won’t go away or become worse after the observation period, you can start taking antibiotics, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
Breathe in some steam
Steam inhalation could help decongest sinuses and clear blocked nose. When you combine it with certain essential oils, it forms a powerful way to relieve some ailments, including those that affect your upper airways (nose and sinuses).
Examples of essential oils you could use:
- Tea tree oil
- Boil approximately 1 liter of distilled water then transfer it to the appropriate bowl. Wait for the water to cool down a bit, just slightly above your body temperature. Water temperature that’s 44°C (111.2°F) and above could increase risk of scalding and burning.
- Add 2 to 3 drops of your prefered essential oil.
- Cover up your head with a towel, close your eyes, and inhale slowly and deeply. The distance between your face and bowl should be an arm’s length.
- Repeat this process 2 to 3 times daily, or until you feel relief.
Caveat: If you have asthma, avoid steam inhalation. Children should also avoid this home remedy because they could knock over the steaming water and suffer a burn.
Learn how to use a neti pot
If you’re unfamiliar with a neti pot, it somewhat looks like a smaller version of Aladdin’s magic lamp. The claim is it supposed to ease congestion, sinus pressure, and facial pain. According to one research, nasal irrigation (such as neti pot irrigation) could be an effective way to ease symptoms of sinus problems if used together with standard treatments. 
How does it help? It thins your nasal mucus and flushes out debris, allergens, and germs that could irritate your nasal passages. The salt in the solution helps loosen the mucus, so it’s easier for you to expel it. Plus, salt has antibacterial properties.
Using a neti pot is quite simple. Just place the spout in one of your nostrils and tilt your head forward at a 45-degree angle. Pour the salt-water solution in one nostril, and then let it exit the other.
Caveat: The most important consideration when performing this procedure is the water source. Using contaminated water could be lethal. That’s why it’s best to use sterilized or distilled water in your neti pot. And make sure to clean it after every use. Never share it.
Ask your doctor about antihistamines and decongestants
Decongestants are good for when your nose feels stuffy due to a cold. They could also lessen the amount of mucus in your airways and lungs by constricting the blood vessels in those areas to reduce blood flow.
However, they’re not usually great options for thick mucus. If you overuse them, they could dry you out and make the mucus thicker. Thus, your nose becomes more congested. The same goes with antihistamines. So, before taking these medicines, talk to your doctor first.
To sum it up, yellow nasal mucus means your respiratory infection is progressing. You don’t always need to take antibiotics to get rid of it. Sometimes, “watchful waiting” is all you need to do. But if symptoms become severe even with over-the-counter treatments, check with your doctor for appropriate treatments.
Coughing Up Yellow Mucus
Have you been coughing up yellow mucus lately? Should you be worried about it?
In healthy individuals, airway mucus is usually clear. Green or yellow mucus could be present during a viral or bacterial infection. However, contrary to popular belief, the color doesn’t come from the virus or bacteria. In the case of yellow mucus, it’s the result of white blood cells rushing to the site to fight the infection.
Causes of Coughing Up Yellow Phlegm?
Bronchitis (Chest Cold)
Bronchitis happens when there’s inflammation of the lining of the airways, particularly the bronchial tubes. As the infection worsens, you may start to cough up thick, yellow mucus that may rarely have a tinge of red (due to blood).
Two types of bronchitis:
Acute bronchitis – Viruses that cause the common cold and flu are usually responsible for acute bronchitis. Since it’s viral, it goes away on its own, so the care given is primarily supportive. Symptoms could last for five to twenty-one days.
Chronic bronchitis – If you’re a smoker, you’ll most likely get chronic bronchitis, which symptoms could last for three months yearly for at least two years. Another causative factor is long-term exposure to environmental irritants, such as dust and fumes (coming from chlorine, ammonia, bromine, etc.).
Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that causes the lungs to be inflamed. The most common strain of germs that are responsible for pneumonia in adults is the Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumonia usually develops after a person suffers from a certain disease. This can be dangerous, especially if a person is too weak.
Common signs and symptoms of pneumonia are:
- Mild to high fever
- Breathing difficulties
- Cough with green, yellow, or bloody mucus
Common Cold or Flu
The common cold is self-limiting, so medicines are unnecessary. But if symptoms don’t start to improve after a week or more, your doctor may suspect bacterial infection, which requires antibiotics.
At the early stage of the infection, the mucus coming from the nose is clear and runny. The mucus eventually turns thick and yellow or green as billions of white blood cells flood the site of infection. Unlike flu, the symptoms of the common cold tend to be less severe.
What’s the difference between the common cold and allergy?
An allergy often comes back at the same time each year. Generally, it lasts more than fourteen days and causes frequent sneezing and itchy nose, eyes, and throat.
During an allergy attack, the allergen or irritant triggers inflammation and increase production of thick, pale yellow mucus. The excess mucus would trickle down the back of the throat, which eventually irritates it and causes coughing.
Symptoms of a mild respiratory allergy go away completely once you received the right treatment and removed the allergen in the air. But prevention is still the best, so know your triggers and avoid them as much as possible.
Sinusitis is the inflammation of the lining of the sinuses, which are four pairs of air-filled cavities found in your face and skull. When your sinuses are swollen and irritated, the mucus that normally drains into your nose is blocked. Mucus then accumulates in the sinuses and creates a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
Common signs and symptoms of sinusitis are:
- Facial pain
- Pressure inside the face
- Nasal congestion
- Persistent cough
- Thick yellow or green nasal mucus
- Sore throat
Most patients with lung cancer don’t feel any symptoms until at the later stages, but there are exemptions.
Some of the early signs and symptoms of lung cancer are:
- Recurrent pneumonia or bronchitis
- Chest pain
- Persistent cough with yellow mucus or blood (common)
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
It’s usually during a chest x-ray that doctors discover the lung cancer tumor. As the tumor starts to grow, it blocks the airways and prevents the mucus from draining out of the lungs. This then encourages the development of infection and aggravates an existing cough.
Cough in asthma is generally unproductive, which means there’s zero secretions expelled from the lungs. In some instances, a person may cough up tiny amounts of clear to light yellow secretions.
Aside from wheezing, there are other key (and unusual) symptoms of asthma. These are breathing difficulties (especially early in the morning), chest tightness, fatigue, constant sighing, and dry, hacking cough.
Home Care Treatments for Cough with Yellow Phlegm
Most cases of respiratory infections are viral, so medical treatments are not usually necessary unless more worrying symptoms start to surface. Visit the nearest hospital in your area if you have breathing difficulties,high fever (101°F), night sweats, and cough with thick yellow, green, or bloody secretions.These symptoms could signal a more serious illness that requires immediate medical intervention.
For non-life-threatening cases of cough with yellow mucus, here are a few simple home remedies you could consider:
Take the appropriate medicines for your condition
Unless your doctor prescribed it, you should avoid taking medicines that suppress coughing. What you want to do is for the infection to go away faster, which won’t happen if you don’t cough up the mucus from your lungs.
Clinical studies have shown that antibiotics don’t work in treating most chest infections, which are generally due to viruses. In fact, taking antibiotics when not needed may cause antibiotic resistance and different side effects, such as nausea, headaches, rashes, vaginal inflammation, diarrhea, and vomiting. 
Medicines that could help:
When you have an upper respiratory infection (common cold or flu), the blood vessels inside your nose become swollen because of the white blood cells that rush to the area to defend you against invading foreign particles or germs. Decongestants work by easing the swelling in order to open your nasal passages, so you can breathe better and allow proper drainage of mucus.
Decongestants are available as a powder, capsule, tablet, spray, and syrup.
Expectorants help get rid of excess phlegm or sputum by loosening and thinning it. One example of an expectorant is guaifensen, which is not advisable for persistent coughs due to asthma, smoking, and respiratory problems that cause too much mucus production. Two common side effects of expectorants are vomiting and nausea.
Drink adequate amounts of fluids
This will prevent dehydration and allows thick and sticky mucus to thin out in the chest, so you can cough it up effortlessly. Tap water is fine, but something warm is better. The steam opens up your stuffy nose and breaks down the mucus.
Water is not your only option, though. You could try a warm soup, herbal teas, coconut juice, and something in between. Avoid liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol, and excessive sugar.
Generally, drinking plenty of fluids doesn’t cause any serious side effects. However, over hydration is possible and can be dangerous. It could throw the sodium levels and other electrolytes off balance, causing confusion, nausea and vomiting, headache, and seizure.
Perform controlled deep coughing and breathing daily
Some chest infections, such as chronic bronchitis, often produce excessive amounts of mucus. People with this condition can’t expel the mucus through ordinary coughing. In fact, uncontrolled coughing could close the airways, which in turn allows more mucus to accumulate in the lungs.
By controlling your breathing and coughing, you allow the maximum amount of air to enter your lungs and loosen up trapped mucus, so it’s easier for you to expel it.
Here’s how you perform deep coughing:
- Sit on a comfortable chair that properly supports your back. Make sure it’s just the right height, so you can plant your feet firmly on the floor.
- Relax your body. Slightly bend forward.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. You should fold your arms over your stomach while doing this.
- Hold your breath for about 3 to 4 seconds before coughing briefly and forcefully at least twice.
- Take a few minutes to rest. Repeat the procedure if you need to.
Drain the mucus out of your lungs through postural drainage
Postural drainage uses gravity to drain fluids or mucus from your lungs, so you can remove it easily by coughing. You usually assume different positions during this procedure. You can either sit or lie down on your side, belly, or back. Consult your doctor about the best positions for your needs, as well as the ideal length of time you should do it (normally at least 5 minutes).
While there’s no fixed time to do this, you should perform postural drainage on an empty stomach to avoid vomiting. Do this before eating or 1 to 1 ½ hours after eating. You could also perform this early in the morning toget rid of the mucus that accumulated during the night.
Ask someone to give you a “tap on the back”
You can perform chest or back tapping alone or in combination with other techniques, like postural drainage. This is a big help for people who have unproductive cough or large amounts of mucus accumulated in their lungs.
This works by lightly tapping on the chest or back. The vibration produced from the tapping motion helps loosen up the mucus and send it into the large airways where you can cough it up.
If you’re doing the back tapping, here’s what you need to do:
- Put a cloth or towel over the person’s back to prevent skin irritation.
- Let him lie down with his face down. Babies or small children should sit on the lap with their upper body tilting forward. For older children, you can instruct them to bend forward at their waist while you’re standing behind them.
- Cup your hand, and then lightly tap the person’s back directly over his lungs.
- Continue doing this for at least 3 minutes. Your doctor or physical therapist can suggest how many times you should be doing this technique (usually once per day).
- Diseases that cause bleeding in the lungs
- Injuries involving the neck, head, ribs, or spine
- Recent surgery
- Collapsed lungs
- Having previous history of pulmonary embolism, heart attack, and lung internal bleeding
- Burns or open wounds
- Taking blood thinners
Use healing herbs and foods
Do you feel like you’re coming down with a cold or flu?
Drink echinacea tea. People drink it to avoid getting a cold or at least ease its symptoms. In fact, if you already have a cold or flu, it may limit it to five days.  According to a study, it offers more than fifty percent protection against the common cold virus. 
Fresh Ginger Tea
A few studies suggest that fresh ginger may help fight viral respiratory infections. Researchers of one study found out that fresh ginger prevents the human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) from causing an infection by preventing it from attaching and entering healthy cells. 
RSV is a viral infection of the lungs and airways that affect both adults and children below one year of age.
How to use fresh ginger:
- Slice or grate one piece of fresh ginger, and then pour it into a tea infuser or teapot.
- Pour freshly boiled water into it. Leave it for approximately 5 to 10 minutes.
- If you prefer, you can add a few drops of lemon juice or honey to sweeten.
- Alternatively, you could chew ¼ slice of fresh ginger.
Do you have a different mucus color and wonder what it means? Here is our detailed article about different mucus colors.
Don’t panic. In most cases, the causes of yellow phlegm or snot are mild and would go away on their own without human intervention. However, when you have been coughing up yellow mucus for more than a week and worrying symptoms start to develop, go to your doctor as soon as you can.