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Lung diseases

Cough up brown stuff

06/01/2000

Question:

i am 37, i have been to 3 different docs, i cough up brown stuff alot its worse when i first wake up. the one doc put me on atrovent that seem to make me worse, they all say my lungs sound fine, i took a breathing test and it was normal. now they want me to takeflovent but , he said my breathing test was fine. i am at wits end here can you help. i do smoke a pack a day.

Answer:

It really depends upon what the `brown stuff` is, of course. Many people, smokers in particular, cough up pigmented material originating either in the lung, or in the posterior pharynx (i.e., the back of your nose and mouth). This pigmented material results from deposition of tar and other material contained in the smoke, along with mucus/phlegm, cellular debris and the like. Occasionally there is bleeding from irritation, and the dried blood appears as a discolored phlegm. Other causes include bleeding from malignancies, and infections, but it sounds as if you have been at least screened for these, although of course I can`t tell how well in this forum (were any of the three docs a lung specialist, for example? Has anyone actually had you bring in a sample of the material, and examine it under the microscope?)

The good thing is that it appears you at least have fairly healthy lungs. I suggest you quit smoking and see if your problem goes away- if nothing else, you will decrease your risk for cancer, heart disease, and all kinds of things that make people die before their time. If you haven`t seen a lung specialist, you might want to consider doing so. I might also suggest an ENT specialist, as they are often asked to evaluate this sort of thing.

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Response by:

Stuart Green, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pathobiology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati