Respiratory Therapist/Smokers cough


Hello. I am a smoker and have been for some time. I average 2-3 packs a week. I have been curious for sometime about something. It is regular for me to cough up brown phlegm in the mornings. I figured it was normal as my body is attempting to flush out the irritants. People that I know that smoke do not share that same issue. I have a friend that would smoke 1-2 packs a day and didn't experience coughing up brown phlegm until he quit. He was grossed out.
I wonder if my body's constant cleansing is good? Or is it bad? I understand everyone is different, but do you have any insight on this? Let me know. Thanks!

Hi Debra,

Thank you for entrusting me with these questions today, these are actually a few of the most common questions I field both online and in daily hospital interactions.

While tan mucus is definitely not "normal" for the average person, it is common in patients with a long smoking history. The coloration (yellow/brown/tan/grey) is generally a mix of nicotine/tar accumulation and normal bacteria all globbed up together. Some smokers get this colored mucus and some don't. Generally, smokers who stay well hydrated and drink lots of clean water have less coloration because the hydration thins out and "dilutes" the coloring a bit. But I wouldn't call it "cleansing"...the reason for the smoker's cough is a combination of things, but the most interesting factor to me is your body trying to grow back the "cilia" hairs that line the trachea (wind pipe). Cilia are tiny, hair-like projections from a cell. In the respiratory tract, cilia beat constantly in order to move mucus and debris up and out of the respiratory tree, in order to protect the lung from infection or irritation by foreign bodies.  Toxins from cigarette smoking actually kill the healthy cilia hairs that help mobilze and "sweep" mucus up and out of your trachea. So smokers tend to have less cilia, which means less potential to mobilize mucus. So smokers tend to have to do much more coughing than the average healthy person who has abundant cilia to sweep the mucus right up and out in one cough.

My advice: QUIT smoking NOW :-) ; drink 10 glasses of clean water a day ; walk 20-30 minutes a day ; take up a new hobby to take cigarettes off your mind. There is literally NO benefits to inhaling tar and toxins. Every day I see people actively dying from lung diseases like COPD and lung cancer because they though it would "never happen" to them. Lung disease is brutal, and COPD is NOT a curable disease. It kills...slowly and painfully. Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.

Best of health!

Larry, BA-RRT  

Respiratory Therapist

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Larry W. Wical, BA-RRT


I CAN answer: ALL questions and queries related to the following topics... - Oxygen - Asthma - COPD - Bronchitis - Emphysema - Pneumonia (Viral/Bacterial) - Tuberculosis (TB) - SARS - Influenza (Flu) - Vaccines - Pulmonary Embolism - Pleural Effusion - Atelectasis - Inhalation injuries (burns, chemicals, etc.) - PFTs - Cardiovascular health - Sleep Apnea - BiPap/CPAP - Ventilators ("Respirators") - Aspiration injuries - Thoracic injuries - Lung contusions - Tracheal injuries - Artificial Tracheostomy - Secretions - Prolotherapy/Regenerative Injection Therapy (RIT): A patient's experience/perspective - General health and fitness I CANNOT answer: Questions that vary too far from my primary scope of pulmonary and cardiovascular care and fitness. I promise to be open and honest about my knowledge of submitted topics, and will always openly provide my personal as well as professional feedback as it relates.


Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT, RCP) since 2005. I have worked primarily in the acute care, critical care, burn care and home care settings.

NBRC - National Board of Respiratory Care AARC - American Association of Respiratory Care

-All About Kids Magazine -The Clermont Sun -Cincy Sports & Fitness Magazine -Many online Fitness and Health blogs and "webazines"

- B.A. in Communication (1997) - A.A.S. in Respiratory Science (2005) - RRT license (state of OH, KY and IN) - Basic Life Saving (BLS) - Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) - Advanced Burn Life Support (ABLS)

Past/Present Clients
Currently work in the city's largest academic/research hospital.

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