Cough mucus – causes, treatment

Cough phlegm

Cough mucus – also sputumsputum, expectoration or mucus sputum – is the coughed up secretion of the airway mucosa and mixed cells.

These cells can be further differentiated into white blood cells in a diagnosis, and also as malignant cells in bronchial carcinoma. In addition, the cough mucus can also be mixed with saliva, food residues, dust, smoke particles, pathogens, pus and in the case of a bloodcough also with blood.

The sputum can be used to investigate diseases such as pneumonia, chronic bronchitis or to diagnose tuberculosis and tumor formations of the lower respiratory tract.

What is sputum?

Cough mucus is a side effect of coughing. The bronchial mucosa, for example, produces an increased secretion during a viral infection, which settles in the throat / throat and often forces the affected person to cough.

The mucus usually has a yellowish-green color, but may also have traces of blood. In the latter case, greater caution is required. However, this can only be noticed when the cough mucus reaches the outside:

The body wants to get rid of the excessively formed cough mucus – if this succeeds, doctors speak of sputum or sputum. Then one can also speak of a productive cough. This occurs not only during an illness, but also, for example, in smokers.


Cough mucus, which occurs as part of a cough during a cold, is normal. The purpose of cough mucus is that the bronchi are cleaned. If an unnatural amount of cough mucus or sputum is formed and its colors are unusual, this can also be a sign of the respiratory disease. The most common causes are acute bronchitis, bronchial asthma, chronic lung disease, allergies, tuberculosis and lung cancer (bronchial carcinoma).From the color of the sputum, conclusions can be drawn about possible causes:

  • Yellow-green: it is a purulent, acute bacterial infection, e.g. bronchial asthmapneumonia and cystic fibrosis
  • White-glassy: the infection is rather viral, e.g. in chronic bronchitis, expectoration in the morning
  • White-frothy: Indication of lung congestion up to edema
  • Greyish: bacterial infection in healing, often in pneumonia
  • Brownish-black: most likely old blood. May be harmless, but does not have to, clarification required, usually in heavy smokers
  • Crumbling: lung diseases such as actinomycosis and tuberculosis
  • Bloody: Coughing up blood (hemoptosis), may be a sign of a serious infection (such as pneumonia) or malignant tumor (for example, lung cancer)

With a strong cough, the bronchial mucosa is damaged, it is then normal that some small threads of blood are added during sputum.

Diseases with this symptom

Diagnosis & course

Cough mucus or its sputum can be diagnosed by the person concerned himself – what is behind it, however, must be clarified by a doctor.

This is done with a combination of questions about the patient’s history as well as other complaints and intensive examinations of the mouth and throat. Optionally, the heart and lungs are listened to with the help of a stethoscopeBlood tests may be added if a particular disease is suspected.

The appearance of cough mucus can be associated with coughing. During a cold, it forms very often. Since the neck tries to separate from it, it very often comes to sputum. If this is bloody, further examinations (for example for lung cancer) should take place.


Cough mucus is associated with respiratory diseases. In addition to a normal cold, bronchitis, asthma, tuberculosis or lung cancer can also be the cause of cough mucus. Accordingly, there are also a wide variety of complications. A cold usually heals without further complications in the immune healthy.

Nevertheless, some serious consequences can occur. If, for example, the person concerned does sports despite the illness, it can lead to heart muscle inflammation (myocarditis) in the most severe case. This can lead to heart failure (heart failure), which can quickly lead to death. Further consequences can be a spread of the cold into the lungs, which then leads to pneumonia.

The infection can also spread to the middle ear, which can also affect the meninges and inner ear from there. The complications of acute bronchitis behave similarly. In asthma, the most dreaded complication is status asthmaticus, a long-lasting asthma attack that is a medical emergency.

The affected person is required to be ventilated. In rare cases, asthma can lead to pulmonary emphysema, which is eventually a strain on the right heart, which can lead to insufficiency. In addition to severe breathing disorders, complications of tuberculosis include spitting out large amounts of blood. Also, a destruction of the lung tissue and the increase in the risk of developing lung cancer is increased.

When to go to the doctor?

The formation of cough mucus can already occur with non-flu-like colds. If it is obvious that mucus secretions when coughing are based on a less dramatic form of cold, which responds well to home remedies, a doctor’s visit can be dispensed with in a recovery process that will soon begin. Otherwise, however, the family doctor should be consulted if cough mucus occurs. If necessary, this will arrange for referral to the pulmonologist or pulmonologist or oncologist.

Cough mucus, also known as sputum and sputum, consists of secretions of the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and various body cells such as white blood cells, which are active in fighting infection. A medical examination of the components of cough mucus may reveal further revealing results. Thus, among the cells in the mucus can be so-called malignancy cells, as they are typical for lung cancer.

Components such as infectious agents, blood, pus, dust, smoke particles or food residues also give the attending physician important information. Thus, other diseases such as pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis or tumors can be diagnosed on the basis of cough mucus. Likewise, allergies and asthma often trigger the formation of cough mucus.

What even medical laymen notice – the wide range of possible colorations of the cough mucus from white to yellow, green, brown to black and the consistency between viscous and crumbly – provides the examining physician with valuable diagnostic criteria.

Treatment & Therapy

Cough mucus occurs as a harmless symptom in the context of an allergy or cold. Sputum is accompanied by a strong or weak cough. If the cough and his cough mucus occur longer or if it is completely or partially permeated by blood, the cause should be investigated by the doctor. Nevertheless, lung cancer should not be thought of immediately.

The doctor asks questions about the symptoms or the sputum itself to identify the cause. Furthermore, he asks about important accompanying symptoms such as runny nose, headaches,hoarseness, etc. Allergies, intolerances and pre-existing conditions are also important to mention. Even medication can affect cough phlegm. Finally, it should be determined whether the person concerned is a heavy smoker or lives or works in air-polluted environments.

This is followed by a holistic examination of the throat, throat and chest. The lungs and heart are listened to with a stethoscope and blood is taken for further investigation of potential inflammation levels and pathogens. Likewise, the cough mucus is examined in the laboratory to find germs and pathogens (e.g. ). In addition, the cells contained in the sputum are also examined.

If there is still uncertainty about the cause of the cough or if the doctor wants to examine the results more closely, further investigations are useful.

Possible further measures could be: tissue examination (biopsy), endoscopy of the larynx, endoscopy of the bronchi, irrigation of the bronchi, computed tomography, etc.

The therapy itself is primarily directed against the cause of the cough mucus. Usually these are , bronchial asthma or lung cancer. These conditions should therefore be treated. In the case of bacterial infections, antibiotics may be used.

Furthermore, smoking should be stopped if possible. Dusty and dry air should also be avoided. Natural alternatives are sufficient drinks in the form of water and teas (chamomile tea, fennel tea, aniste tea and sage tea).

Depending on the final cause, the cough mucus or the disease that leads to sputum is treated. For the harmless cough mucus of a the well-known cough tablets (lozenges) or cough syrup are the classics. Of these drugs, there are both over-the-counter drugs in the pharmacy and prescription drugs. The cough suppressants are even divided into cough solvers and cough suppressants.

Outlook & Forecast

In many cases, coughing up phlegm occurs when you have the flu or a cold and is a harmless symptom. This disappears again when the underlying disease has been overcome. However, cough phlegm can also occur with bronchitis or pneumonia. In this case, the underlying disease must be combated in a targeted manner so that a life-threatening condition does not develop.

In any case, the affected person should avoid sports or physical activities, as this can cause inflammation of the heart muscle . Heart failure, in turn, can lead to death. Even with pneumonia, bed rest is necessary to successfully combat the disease.

There are relatively many means available to the patient for self-help with cough phlegm. However, a doctor should be consulted in the event of a long-lasting illness in order to avoid consequential damage and inflammation. The person affected can also develop breathing difficulties more easily. Treatment is usually with the help of medication.


Cough phlegm that is not caused by illness can be prevented by living a healthy life with plenty of exercise, fresh air, healthy nutrition and not smoking. Furthermore, if possible, one should not work and live in air-polluted rooms or areas. A mouthguard can have a short-term preventive effect if necessary.

Home remedies & herbs against cough phlegm & sputum

  • Anise helps against flatulence, cough phlegm, asthma and white flow and ensures a good night’s sleep.
  • Cough tea is prepared as follows: 5 grams each of buckhorn, lungwort, coltsfoot, wool flower, aniseed, liquorice, hibiscus roots and 10 grams of Icelandic moss.
  • Another cough tea is made from half a tablespoon of liquorice, half a tablespoon of violet roots, a tablespoon of marshmallow roots, half a tablespoon of coltsfoot leaves, half a tablespoon of wool flowers and just as much aniseed. From this mixture they then make a cup of tea from a teaspoon. Best sweetened with honey.
  • Nettle tea has a blood-cleansing and expectorant effect.
  • Used as a bath additive, eucalyptus oil loosens mucus, opens the respiratory organs and reduces the urge to cough. That is why this bath is particularly appropriate for colds.
  • Spruce needle honey is a good, expectorant cough suppressant. The flowers of the spruce are prepared with sugar.
  • Coltsfoot stimulates appetite and helps with coughing, mucus and hoarseness.

What you can do yourself

If the patient smokes, smoking must be stopped in any case in order to loosen the cough mucus. In general, a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle also have a positive effect on the symptom and can also prevent it. The patient should not be in rooms where the air is polluted. When traveling to countries with heavily polluted air, a is suitable.helps against the cough phlegm . It can be taken in pill form or as a Tea. In general, various teas that warm the throat and loosen the mucus help here. Nettle tea so has a positive effect on the throat and pharynx and can thus loosen the cough phlegm.

The symptom should generally be treated with Heat . This includes going to The Sauna , whereby those affected have to assess for themselves whether a visit to the sauna would put further strain on their possibly weakened circulation. If this is the case, sauna sessions should be avoided. Inhalations with hot water and salt also help with cough phlegm and protect the circulation. Swimming with bath additives and essential oils is also advisable to keep the respiratory tract moist. Before going to bed, ointments can be applied to the chest to warm it. Honey also has a positive effect on the cough phlegm and can loosen it.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.