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What Are the Causes of Mucus in the Lungs?

author image Lori Newell
I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.
What Are the Causes of Mucus in the Lungs?
Smoking raises the risk of diseases that cause mucus in the lungs. Photo Credit cigare image by Frédéric Prochasson from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Mucus is a slippery and watery substance that is normally found throughout the body. Its function is to protect membranes and help the body fight infection. However, if the body produces too much mucus and it begins to accumulate in the lungs, symptoms can occur. This includes coughing, trouble breathing, fatigue and chest pain or discomfort. In some cases, mucus is an early warning sign of a serious underlying disease. The first step is to determine the cause of excess mucus in the lungs, so the right treatment approach can be started.


The lungs contain structures called bronchial tubes that help to transport air in and out of the lungs. Bronchitis is an inflammation of these tubes. It can be temporary and occur as the result of a cold or flu, or it can become chronic. Smoking is a major cause of chronic bronchitis. Mucus in the lungs may be accompanied by a constant need to clear the throat, a persistent cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and fatigue, states the MayoClinic.com.

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The alveoli in the lungs are tiny air sacs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place. Emphysema is diagnosed when the walls of these sacs lose elasticity and become inflamed. This causes oxygen to get trapped in the lungs and makes breathing difficult, warns the University of California San Francisco. Emphysema can lead to a chronic cough, frequent respiratory infections which produce mucus in the lungs, fatigue and loss of appetite. Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema. Both emphysema and chronic bronchitis fall under the general title of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.


If the lungs become inflamed due to a bacterial, viral or fungal infection, pneumonia may develop, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. One of the most common symptoms of pneumonia is a cough that produces mucus, which may be green or yellow or contain blood. Fever, chills, trouble breathing, painful breathing, headaches, confusion and fatigue are other warning signs. Pneumonia can be especially dangerous in young children, the elderly, those with respiratory conditions and anyone living with an illness that suppresses the immune system. Medical care should be sought as, in severe cases, pneumonia can be fatal.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition that makes mucus abnormally thick and sticky. It can build up in the lungs. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic defect that affects the way the body produces mucus and maintains a balance of salt and water. Along with mucus in the lungs, the sweat of someone with cystic fibrosis can become very salty. Cystic fibrosis patients are prone to respiratory infections, lung damage and abnormal growths in the nasal passage. A variety of treatment options are available to help manage the symptoms.

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