Coughing is not a disease. In fact, coughing is considered as a symptom and as well as a defense mechanism of the body in order to eliminate or expel pathogens specifically from our lungs. Once our lungs inhale irritants from the atmosphere, the body naturally produces mucus in order to attract these irritating particles and expel them from the respiratory system. Normally, the body produces only white or clear colored mucus. However, other factors could also determine or affect the color or the appearance of the mucus. Yellow or green colored mucus can indicate bacterial infection while red tinged mucus can be a sign of internal bleeding. However, there are some people who also experience black colored mucus. But what does it mean when I am coughing up black mucus?
Understanding mucus production in the lungs
Just like what is mentioned above, mucus is produced as a way for the body to trap and eliminate the invading pathogens. As we all know, the lining of the respiratory system starting from the nose up to the airways of the lungs is covered or layered with mucus. Because of the presence of this sticky substance, the airway is always kept clean by filtering various chemicals and particles in the air that we breathe. Most of these environmental particles and agents normally produce clear mucus with the slight appearance of dark colored tinged. However, there are also instances wherein we get to experience black colored mucus. Black mucus can also be caused by different factors; nevertheless, this can be inconsequential of a very serious health problem.
Possible causes of black colored mucus
There are a number of things that can cause mucus to become black or very dark in color. Below are some of the possible factors that can lead to this type of condition.
• Presence of Dirt and Dust – Since our respiratory system is always exposed to the outside environment, it is always at risk of inhaling particles and other foreign agents that can cause irritation to the respiratory passages. Because of this, one of the most common causes of black or grey mucus is due to the presence of dirt and dust in the atmosphere. When we are exposed to places that are dusty, we are also capable of inhaling these particles. As they enter the nasal passages, the mucus covering the respiratory lining can trap these particles causing the clear colored mucus to turn black or grey. So if ever we blow our nose or cough, we can see small and black dust and/or dirt particles attached to the mucus.
• Inhalation of Smoke – another possible cause of black mucus is through the inhalation of smoke. One of the most common types of smoke comes from cigarette smoking. Most of us think that constant cigarette smoking can turn our mucus brown; however, this can also change the color to black. Aside from cigarettes, smoking marijuana is also another possible cause of the production of black mucus. This black discoloration is most likely due to the high aluminum content of both the tobacco and marijuana smoke. Aside from this, black mucus resulting from the inhalation of smoke from fire is also considered a serious inhalation injury and can also increase the risk of death. Once this occurs, it is necessary to seek immediate medical consultation and attention.
• The Presence of Environmental Hazards – another possible cause of black mucus is due to the constant exposure to environmental hazards. This can be best exemplified by miners (coal miners) who are always placed in an area or atmosphere that is high is coal or graphite particles. Because of this exposure, it can lead to the black lung disease or what other people consider as the coal worker’s pneumoconiosis. Aside from coal miners, workers who are exposed to environmental pollutants such as beryllium can also experience black mucus. This is the reason why constant wearing of protective devices such as masks and respirators can help in filtering the air and decrease the risk of environmental particles entering the lungs.
• The Occurrence of Infection – specific infections can also cause the production of black mucus. Two of the most common examples are the aspergillosis and the mucormycosis. These fungal infections are considered uncommon; nevertheless, they can still cause mucus to turn black in color. These infections are seen mostly in people with compromised immune system.
• Other Causes – other causes of black mucus is due to foreign bodies. One of the best examples of this is children putting different kinds of objects in their mouths and noses. These objects or foreign bodies can become lodged in the upper recesses of the airways or the nose. Once these are left undetected, this can also cause infections and can erode to other structures thus leading to the black drainage form the nose of black phlegm coughed up from the lungs.
These are just some of the possible causes of the production of black mucus in the body. It is necessary for us to become aware of these things in order for us to prevent the possibilities of having serious health complications in the future.