There are many potential causes for coughing up blood. These can range from minor to severe and may include noesbleeds, lung conditions, and blood vessel problems.

The medical term for coughing up blood from the respiratory tract is hemoptysis. A range of conditions, ranging from minor throat irritation to certain lung conditions, can cause this complaint.

If a person coughs up blood, they can first check to see if the blood is coming from their gums or a minor mouth injury.

This article will look at some possible causes of coughing up blood, the treatment options, and when to contact a doctor.

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Should someone have a nosebleed while lying on their back during sleep, the blood can flow into the back of the nose and the top of the throat. The person may swallow the blood and later cough it up.

A person may notice that blood comes out of their nose when they sit up. If someone has a severe nosebleed, they may also cough up blood that has flowed down into the throat.

Nosebleeds are not usually serious and should stop on their own. However, extreme bleeding that does not stop after about 30 minutes may require medical treatment.

Numerous respiratory infections — including laryngitis, bronchitis, and pneumonia — may cause a person to cough up blood.

Outside of the hospital, these infections are the most common reasons for coughing up blood. One analysis found that infections caused 64% of hemoptysis cases in an outpatient clinic.

People with respiratory tract infections may have recently had a cold or fever and may have other signs of illness, such as exhaustion. Other people in their family may be sick, too.

Sometimes, a person may recover with home treatment, and they may not need medication. Viral bronchitis, for example, usually clears on its own. On the other hand, bacterial bronchitis may require treatment with antibiotics.

In more severe cases, especially if a person has severe pneumonia, they may need to stay in the hospital for intravenous fluids, antibiotics, breathing treatments, and monitoring.

People with asthma may cough up blood during or after an asthma episode. In fact, in one outpatient study, asthma was the second leading cause of coughing up blood, accounting for 10% of cases.

People with asthma may notice wheezing, difficulty breathing, and coughing in the morning. They may also have asthma episodes during which these symptoms become severe.

Although doctors usually diagnose asthma in children, it can also appear in adulthood.

There is currently no cure for asthma, but a wide range of treatments can help ease the symptoms. For some people, allergies are a trigger for asthma episodes, so seeking allergy treatments and making lifestyle changes may help.

Exercising, receiving emergency steroids through an asthma inhaler, and taking some medications may help ease the symptoms of asthma.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of conditions that damage the alveoli in the lungs. COPD makes it more difficult for the lungs to exchange gas.

It is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. People who smoke are more likely to develop COPD, especially as they age.

The symptoms develop slowly over time and tend to include:

  • chronic cough
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness

There is currently no cure for COPD, and the symptoms can worsen over time.

However, treatments can help improve quality of life and may slow the progression of the condition. These include:

  • receiving breathing treatments
  • exercising, if possible
  • making lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking
  • taking some medications

Blood in the mucus or a bloody cough may signal certain types of cancer, including lung cancer.

In a sample of outpatients with bloody coughs, lung cancer accounted for 6% of cases. People over the age of 40 years and individuals who smoke heavily are more likely to develop lung cancer.

Some symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • chronic cough
  • coughing up blood
  • chronic fatigue

Treatment depends on the type of lung cancer a person has and how far it has progressed. However, it may include surgery to remove tumors, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Tuberculosis (TB) is a severe and potentially life threatening lung infection that may spread to other areas of the body.

If a person notices large quantities of blood, not just a few droplets, TB is more likely. Worldwide, it accounts for a significant portion of cases of coughing up blood, but in wealthy countries, the rate is lower.

People with TB get the infection from others, so people who live or work in close proximity to those at high risk of TB are more vulnerable themselves.

Symptoms include:

  • chronic cough
  • bleeding when coughing
  • weight loss
  • night sweats

People who have HIV are more likely to get TB.

Doctors usually treat TB with the antibiotic isoniazid. A person may also need oxygen and other treatments, depending on how severe their illness is.

Rarely, problems with the blood vessels in the lungs or elsewhere in the body may cause a person to cough up blood.

An embolism, which happens when a blood clot travels to the lungs, may cause a person to cough up blood.

People with a history of blood clots, those who must sit for long periods of time or who have recently had surgery, and individuals who smoke are more vulnerable.

An arteriovenous malformation (AVM) means that a major vein has a malformation. For example, it might be twisted or have other problems.

When a pulmonary AVM ruptures in or near the lungs, it may cause a person to cough up blood.

Blood vessel issues are medical emergencies and can be life threatening. Sudden bleeding or other symptoms, such as confusion or difficulty breathing, warrant a call to 911.

Treatment depends on the location of the issue but may include undergoing surgery, taking blood thinners, and receiving emergency supportive care.

Coughing up a minimal quantity of blood is not an emergency but suggests that a person may have an infection or other untreated illness.

So, a person should call a doctor any time they cough up blood.

Call 911 or go to the emergency room if a:

  • person has trouble breathing
  • person has a history of blood clots or is undergoing treatment for blood clots
  • person has intense chest pain
  • person feels confused or loses consciousness
  • baby or young child has difficulty breathing

Coughing up blood can be due to a range of conditions, many of which are highly treatable.

People will need to contact a doctor for a diagnosis to find out the underlying cause.