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Lung diseases

Black streaks in phlegm

12/04/2006

Question:

hi i am a 19 year old female. i dont smoke at all, but for a while now, i have been getting black streaks in my phlegm [it`s not ALL black], mostly so when i am sick and coughing up green/yellow phlegm. is this something really serious? i don`t understand if this is blood or something else, if so where it is coming from and what might it indicate? thanks a lot!

Answer:

Usually black phlegm or black streaks within phlegm is due to inhaled particles or soot that is coughed up and out after it is inhaled.  Most often this occurs after working in a particularly dusty environment such as a coal mine. 

Another possibility is that the black streaks are old blood that can be a dark maroon or even blackish color.  Bloody phlegm can be caused by bronchitis or other pulmonary infection or blood coming from the sinuses after severe sinusitis.  Some infections can also cause a very dark color to phlegm.

It would be beneficial for you to see your primary care physician and, if possible, bring in a sample of the phlegm for analysis.  If this continues, it will be very important to determine the exact cause so that appropriate treatment can be started.

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Response by:

Ralph   Panos, MD Ralph Panos, MD
Associate Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati