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Dr. Andrew Rynne

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Suggest treatment for cough, brownish phlegm in the throat and sore throat

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Dr. Bonnie Berger-Durnbaugh

General & Family Physician

Practicing since :1991

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Posted on Wed, 16 May 2018 in Ear, Nose and Throat Problems
Question: I caught a cold from my grandson but it has been over a week now and it isn't going away. I am coughing up brown mucus and have a very sore throat rom coughing so hard. I can go for a while without coughing but once it hits I can't stop until I have coughed up the mucus. It's disgusting! I have never had a cold this bad. I have no voice right now either.
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Answered by Dr. Bonnie Berger-Durnbaugh 1 hour later
Brief Answer:
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Detailed Answer:
Hello and welcome,

There are a number of viruses going around right now that are causing very bad colds! Here are my thoughts on what might be going on and what you can do about it:

The brown mucus may be from bleeding from capillaries. You say you are coughing it up, which means the bleeding could be happening from the lower respiratory tract (bronchi, lungs), but it could be from the sinuses draining down and then you coughing the brown mucus plug up. If you are having a fever, bad chills, or shortness of breath, then I do recommend you have your lungs listened to and a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia.

But if it is still a cold, and you are having a hard time coughing up the mucus, if you are not already using it, try guaifenesin. This is a mucolytic and, if you drink a lot of water with it, it will help thin the mucus so that it passes more easily instead of clogging things up and causing hard coughing to get it up. You wrote that you are taking cough syrup - if that contains guaifenesin, don't double up on it.

If you are wheezing of short of breath, do go in to have your lungs listened to (as mentioned above) and the doctor may want to give you an inhaled corticosteroid to decrease inflammation in your airways.

If your throat is very painful and you have tender lymph nodes around your neck and jaw area, then a strep test would be a good idea, especially if you have fever or chills, but from your description you state that the sore throat is from coughing hard.

Benzonatate or a cough syrup with codeine in it (by prescription only) can help suppress coughing jags or the urge to cough, but won't help with getting stuck mucus up.

Unless you have indications that make a bacterial infection more likely (fever, chills, symptoms have been going on for more than 2 weeks, or immune system impairments from diabetes, chemo, asthma, or smoking), an antibiotic would not be best right now.

Trying to decrease the drainage might help, and a nasal corticosteroid such as Flonase can decrease the sinus mucosal inflammation and drainage. This you can get over the counter. It can take a couple of days to really kick in.

I hope this information helps. Please let me know if I can provide further information.
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Chakravarthy Mazumdar
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