THE DREADED cold and flu season is well and truly upon us, but many of us find it difficult to decipher between the two.
Watery eyes, a runny nose and general lethargy are among the common health ailments that strike us down when the silliness of the festive season subsides.
A persistent chesty cough has swept the nation this year, even plaguing Queen Elizabeth II.
Coughing up phlegm goes hand-in-hand with this particular predicament. While revolting, the sticky substance can signal a lot about the state of your health.
Speaking to MailOnline, she said: “The fact you have a runny nose or are coughing up phlegm shows your body is fighting off infection and, hopefully, eliminating it from your body.”
Dr Brewer also said the colour of your phlegm can reveal how serious your infection is.
She continued: “If it’s very discoloured, as in green or brown, or blood-stained, it’s wise to seek medical advice from a pharmacist or your GP.”
The expert explained phlegm and mucus works to protect our bodies by keeping our airways, lungs and nasal passages moist.
Its sticky consistency works to trap dust, pollution and allergen particles to prevent them reaching our lungs.
Mucus, commonly referred to as phlegm or snot, also contains immune cells and antibodies that help fight infection.
Our bodies constantly produce the substance, but if there is an excessive amount or it is ‘off colour’, it could signify a more serious infection.
According to Dr Brewer, if your mucus is white it signals the tissues in your nose have swollen up.
She said: “If you cough up white phlegm it may mean you have an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold, or an allergy, which can cause congested sinuses.”
Healthy people coughing up a substance that is yellow or green are likely fighting a bacterial or viral infection. This could be caused by sinuses, or the lower respiratory tract.
For people suffering chronic lung disease, secretions of this colour could suggest an infection, and professional advice is recommended.
If you notice pink or red coloured mucus, it could be the sign of a chest infection and urgent medical attention should be sought.
Dr Brewer advised the darker the phlegm, the more likely you are to have something serious going on.
Brown or black coloured mucus – most typically seen in smokers – could be a sign of fungal or bacterial pneumonia, which is linked to long-term inhalation of irritants or dust.
In this case, make it your first priority to see a GP.