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Coughing Bloody Mucus: When Is It an Emergency?

When you have lung disease, a chronic breathing condition or another pulmonary disease, you can expect to cough frequently, often coughing up mucus as you clear your airways. However, if you cough up bloody mucus, it can be quite unnerving, so it is good to know when you should be concerned and seek medical help.

Bloody MucusWhat You May Experience When Coughing Up Bloody Mucus

Coughing up blood, which is referred to as hemoptysis in the medical community, can be shocking, but it is not always cause for alarm. Your level of concern should depend on your current health and any diagnoses you are presently living with.

Most of the time, when people cough up blood or bloody mucus, it comes from the lungs and is the result of a chest infection or prolonged coughing. The bloody mucus may appear frothy or bubbly, and either streaked with red or bright red. If you cough up dark blood that contains bits of food or has the appearance of coffee grounds, this blood may be coming from your digestive system. In this case, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Causes of Coughing Bloody Mucus

When people cough up bloody mucus, the most common causes are a chest infection or an ongoing cough, as with chronic bronchitis. However, there are other potential causes of coughing up blood or bloody mucus that you should know about. Here are some causes of hemoptysis:

Additionally, it is helpful to be aware that if you experience severe nosebleeds or significant bleeding from the mouth or throat, you may experience blood in your saliva when you cough.

What to Do If You Cough Up Bloody Mucus

It is best to see your doctor if you do cough up blood or bloody mucus, just to ensure that you do not need further medical treatment. Your health care providers can administer tests to determine the cause. If you are coughing up a lot of blood, or coughing up blood for an extended period of time, seek medical treatment right away. If you are unsure why you might be coughing up bloody mucus—particularly if you are coughing up significant volumes of blood (more than a teaspoon)—call 911 right away.

Additionally, if you are coughing up blood and it is accompanied by chest pain, dizziness, fever, lightheadedness, shortness of breath or thirst, or if you experience blood in your urine or unexplained weight loss in addition to coughing up bloody mucus, contact your doctor quickly as these may be signs of a worsening condition. If any of these symptoms are severe—particularly the shortness of breath or dizziness—do not hesitate to call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.

How to Tell If Coughing Up Bloody Mucus Is an Emergency

While there are some situations in which coughing up bloody mucus is not cause for extreme concern, it is best to exercise caution just in case it is a sign of something more serious. If you have coughed up more than about a teaspoon of blood, you should call 911 immediately. You should also seek emergency medical care if you are experiencing frequent bouts of bloody mucus when you cough.

Additionally, if the blood is dark and has granules or small bits of food, this is a sign of hematemesis, or bleeding in the digestive tract, and should be treated as an emergency as well. Go the emergency department or call 911 right away.

Diagnosis and Tests: What to Expect

When you seek medical attention after coughing up bloody mucus, your doctor will want to see if you are experiencing any complications. If you have a pulmonary disease, your doctor will test for a worsening condition or complications associated with your particular disease. You will need to provide a thorough medical history and be prepared for a physical exam, which will include checking your mouth and nose for possible bleeding sites. You will also likely be asked to cough during the examination, and your doctor may take samples of your mucus or blood. It may be helpful to bring in a sample of the bloody mucus you have coughed up—ideally wrapped in plastic wrap rather than tissue paper. You may also receive certain tests, including blood tests, a bronchoscopy, chest x-ray, CT scan, lung biopsy, lung scan, pulmonary arteriography or sputum culture and smear to help your doctor identify the cause and check for complications.

Your doctor will also want to know approximately how many times you have coughed up blood and how long you have been coughing bloody mucus. You will be asked if the amount of blood or frequency of coughing up bloody mucus has increased, as well as if there are any times of day when the coughing gets worse. Finally, your doctor will want to hear about any other symptoms that have accompanied coughing up bloody mucus, so make sure you take careful stock of all your symptoms.

Treatment for Coughing Bloody Mucus

Your treatment will depend on the cause of your bloody mucus. If you have a pulmonary disease like COPD or a chronic breathing condition like chronic bronchitis or bronchiectasis, coughing up bloody mucus can be a sign of infection or a worsening condition. Depending on the severity of these cases, you may be prescribed antibiotics, breathing treatments, pulmonary rehabilitation or oxygen therapy. You may also require hospitalization in certain situations. Treatments will focus on treating any infection or inflammation, as well as helping to reduce excessive coughing or mucus to clear your airways and make breathing less taxing. Your doctor will also want to treat your symptoms to help you learn to manage your condition on your own when possible. Once your health care providers are able to assess what is causing you to cough up bloody mucus, they can ascertain how to best treat your symptoms to manage your condition in the long term.

If Oxygen Therapy Is Recommended, Inogen Can Help

In cases of bronchiectasis, chronic bronchitis, COPD or certain other lung diseases and breathing conditions, oxygen therapy may be prescribed to help make breathing easier and improve your quality of life. Depending on what is causing you to cough up bloody mucus, your doctor may suggest you use supplemental oxygen in conjunction with other medications, treatments or breathing and coughing techniques. If you required emergency care, you may receive supplemental oxygen in the hospital, or have it prescribed for home use. For patients who do not require hospitalization, or for patients who have been released from hospitalization, portable oxygen treatments can significantly improve your breathing so you can still participate in your regular activities. This can go a long way in allowing you to maintain as normal a lifestyle as possible, even with a chronic or debilitating condition.

Portable oxygen concentrators, like the small and extremely portable Inogen One G4, make maintaining your regular activities much easier, particularly when you are struggling with coughing or shortness of breath. With this small, lightweight portable oxygen concentrator, you can receive your oxygen treatments at home or on the go, without having to worry about managing heavy equipment or awkward oxygen tanks. The Inogen One G4 draws from the air around you, purifying and concentrating the air to provide the oxygen you need. As long as you have a charged battery or access to AC or DC power, you can receive the oxygen you need, anytime, anywhere.

Learning how to manage the symptoms of any pulmonary condition can require some adjustments. Many people worry that supplemental oxygen will get in the way of their daily activities, but with one of Inogen’s portable oxygen concentrators, you can receive your oxygen treatments and breathe easier while continuing to participate in as rich and active a life as possible. Coughing up bloody mucus can be frightening, so it’s important to seek medical attention when it occurs, just to be safe. When it is time to seek treatments for coughing up bloody mucus, ask your doctor if oxygen therapy and a portable oxygen concentrator is right for you. Find out more about how Inogen can help improve your mobility, freedom and independence by contacting us today.

Frequently Asked Questions: Coughing Up Bloody Mucus

What does it mean when you cough up mucus with blood in it?

Coughing up blood in mucus can result from a number of things, from a respiratory infection, such as bronchitis, to a serious condition, such as lung cancer. Finding blood in phlegm is not necessarily something to panic over, but it can be a sign of a serious problem. Coughing up a little blood in mucus or coughing up some blood-tinged phlegm is typically not something to worry too much about, if it is infrequent. This is particularly true if you have a respiratory infection. That said, it is a good idea to get in contact with your doctor and let them know, in case they want you to come in. If you see a significant amount of blood in the mucus you cough up, seek immediate medical attention. 

How much blood in phlegm is bad?

Ideally, you would never see blood in mucus after you cough. However, if you cough up phlegm with a little blood, do not panic. Let your doctor know and let them guide you from there. Your overall health, and any conditions you may have, such as COPD, will guide your doctor’s response. If you start to frequently see blood in phlegm when you cough, or if you see increasing amounts of blood in mucus you cough up, seek immediate medical care. If you cough up more than a teaspoon of blood with little mucus, or if the blood is dark or has granules or bits of food, this is the time to get emergency medical attention. When in doubt, if you cough up blood in phlegm, seek medical care. It is better to be overly cautious than not cautious enough. 

When I should be concerned about blood in mucus?

While phlegm with a little blood is not uncommon, it is helpful to know when you should be concerned about blood in mucus. Generally speaking, you should be concerned and call your doctor right away if you have blood in phlegm along with any of the following:

  • Blood in your urine and stool
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Fever 
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Unexplained weight loss

Additionally, if you are coughing up primarily blood, rather than blood in mucus, seek medical attention. If you cough up more than one teaspoon of blood in mucus, get emergency medical help. 

Is phlegm with a little blood normal?

Phlegm with a little blood can be a normal result of acute bronchitis, excessive coughing, nosebleeds and respiratory infections. If you only have the smallest hint or streaks of blood in mucus after coughing, it is most likely due to one of these reasons. As long as it is infrequent and does not get worse or accompany other worrisome symptoms, there’s no immediate concern. If coughing up phlegm with a little blood happens frequently, the amount of blood begins to increase or you begin to feel worse, contact your doctor. 

SOURCES

Addrizzo-Harris, Doreen, et al. “Bronchiectasis.” Lung Health A-Z – CHEST Foundation, 15 May 2020, foundation.chestnet.org/patient-education-resources/bronchiectasis/. 

“Bronchitis.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Accessed 2 Mar. 2021, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/bronchitis. 

“Coughing up Blood (Blood in Phlegm).” NHS Choices, NHS, 6 Aug. 2018, www.nhs.uk/conditions/coughing-up-blood/. 

“Coughing Up Blood (Hemoptysis).” UCLA Health, UCLA Health, Accessed 2 Mar. 2021, www.uclahealth.org/lungcancer/coughing-up-blood-hemoptysis. 

“Coughing up Blood .” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 7 Apr. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/coughing-up-blood/basics/causes/sym-20050934. 

Eldridge, Lynne. “When Is Coughing up Blood an Emergency?” Verywell Health, About, Inc., 12 Jan. 2020, www.verywellhealth.com/coughing-up-blood-possible-causes-2249394. 

Gotter, Ana. “What Causes Blood-Tinged Sputum, and How Is It Treated?” Healthline, Healthline, Inc., 15 July 2019, www.healthline.com/health/blood-tinged-sputum. 

Silva, Joana Cavaco. “Blood in Sputum: Causes, Diagnosis, and When to See a Doctor.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 12 Jan. 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321563.php. 

2 thoughts on “Coughing Bloody Mucus: When Is It an Emergency?”

  1. Avatar Andrea Hastings says:

    Great care, friendly staff

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Thank you Andrea!

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