Orange Phlegm Diagnosis

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Not only is orange phlegm disgusting, but it often is a sign of a bacterial infection that needs treated by a physician. Both green and orange phlegm can also be a sign of a bacterial infection. Learn what these conditions could indicate.

Phlegm is a respiratory product that is made as a defense mechanism against foreign invaders. When a bacterium or virus invades the body, phlegm is produced to help flush it out. Most of the time in health individuals, phlegm is not noticeable. Only when the body produces some type of immune response does the phlegm thicken and become apparent.

What Causes Orange Phlegm?

There are a number of infections that can cause orange phlegm. Most of these infections involve the respiratory system. Infections of the sinuses, bronchioles, and pharynx (throat) can all cause phlegm that is thick and off color. More often than not, phlegm which is produced as the result of an infection will appear bright yellow or green. Orange phlegm may be produced when tiny capillaries lining the nasal passages become weak from weakening as they open to help to fight the infection. As the tiny capillaries break open, small amounts of blood will leak out which can stain the thickened phlegm, producing an orange color.

How to Treat Infections that Cause Orange Phlegm

Most infections that produce phlegm that is thick and orange will be the result of a bacterial invasion. Bacteria will enter into the respiratory tract and can infect any area from the nose down into the lungs.

Sinus Infections

The sinuses are open areas inside the head that are connected to the nasal passages. When phlegm and mucus build up in response to an infection, the sinuses fill with the thick fluid. Since the fluid is moist and warm, bacteria are given the most favorable conditions to grow and multiply. After a while, the thick fluid starts to run out the nose and down the back of the throat.


Any inflammation of the bronchioles in the lungs is also known as bronchitis. When the inflammation is due to a bacterial or viral infection, the bronchioles can start to fill with phlegm. Just like in sinus infections, as the fluid starts to build, bacteria are given an enhanced opportunity to grow.

Treatment for Orange Phlegm

If you are concerned that you may have a bacterial infection, it is best to consult a licensed health care provider to receive treatment, which may include prescription antibiotics. Other than the antibiotics, patients are advised to do the following:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Increase fluid intake
  • Breathe in steam to open sinuses
  • Gargle with salt water if secretions are irritating

Take medications as prescribed by a physician

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Choosing the best method for treating phlegm is a decision that you and your doctor can discuss together. Any reader who is concerned about this issue should contact a doctor for advice.


Centers for Disease Control, Get Smart: Sinus Infections (Accessed January 19, 2011)

Medline Plus, Sinusitis (Accessed January 19, 2011)