What are the signs of sputum problems?

Sputum is a thick, slippery, sticky substance produced by the throat, bronchial passages, and lungs. Sputum, also called phlegm, contains mucus and other substances. These other substances can include dead cells, pus, or foreign particles, such as dust. You may not notice sputum unless you cough due to a respiratory infection, such as pneumonia. You may also notice sputum if you have certain other diseases or conditions in which the body produces abnormal amounts or types of sputum, such as cystic fibrosis and asthma.

When sputum is a symptom of a disease or abnormal condition, it may take on certain characteristics. These characteristics include being:

  • Abnormally thick or purulent

  • Bloody or blood tinged

  • Produced in excessive amounts

  • Yellow or greenish in color

Normally, you can clear your breathing passages by coughing. You may have problems doing this if you are weak or if you are producing large amounts of sputum or extremely thick sputum.

Sputum symptoms can be caused by a variety of mild to serious conditions. These include infections, malignancy (cancer), inflammation, allergy, trauma, medication side effects, and airway obstruction.

In some cases, sputum symptoms can be a sign of a very serious or life-threatening disease or condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or lung cancer. Seek prompt medical care if you are coughing up or producing large amounts of sputum or if your sputum is unusual, persistent, recurrent, or causing you concern.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have severe difficulty breathing; chest pain; severe shortness of breath; swelling of the throat, mouth or face; or are coughing up bloody, pink and frothy sputum.


What other symptoms might occur with sputum symptoms?

Sputum symptoms may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, if your sputum symptoms are caused by an infection, you may also experience fever and body aches.

Symptoms of an infection that can occur with sputum symptoms

I... Read more about sputum symptomssymptoms


What causes sputum symptoms?

Healthy airways are coated with a thin layer of mucus. When threatened by infectious germs or damaging foreign substances, such as smoke or dust, cells lining the airways produce additional mucus. This can accumulate and thicken into sputum. Sputum must be expelled from the lungs by coughing in order to keep your airways clear.

Sputum symptoms are generally associated with a v... Read more about sputum symptomscauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: May 7, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Ear, Nose and Throat

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