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What is sputum ?

It is the substance/ mucus which is produced and comes up from your chest in response to inflammatory or infective antigen.

Its color and quantity are of important significance in coming to conclusion of the diagnosis of the disease.

How does it all happen?

It is secreted by cells found in the lower respiratory airway (bronchi & bronchioles).
It contains foreign debris and dead cells which have been inhaled in by the lungs. It may contain bacteria, white blood cells or other immune cells in response to protective mechanism against the allergen/ antigen

The sputum generally traps the foreign material present and the ciliary cells present in the airway help in clearing it out from the lungs by coughing it through the mouth.

In few cases, like tobacco smoking, the cilia get damaged and their to and fro movement is compensated hence leads of accumulation of the sputum within the airways.


• Infection: bacterial, virus or TB

• Asthma

• Smoking

• Lung cancer

• Lung abscess


• Environmental stimuli : dust, pollution or exposure to chemicals, dust, fumes and vapours irritate the lung and cause inflammatory changes and damage.

• Allergic rhinitis

• Cystic fibrosis


• Sinusitis

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Colour and its significance


• Allergic rhinitis: when a person is exposed to pollens , dust or grass his/ her body may show an allergic response hence increase the amount of mucus being produced. This mucus is coughed up as a clear sputum.

• Viral pneumonia: it is accompanied by flu like symptoms and clear sputum.

• Viral bronchitis: due to inflammation in the bronchial tubes there is increased production of mucus and generally it is coughed out as clear sputum than having a yellowish tinge to it.


• Viral bronchitis: it starts off as clear then white and may become yellow tinged also.

• GERD: causes one to cough up thick white sputum.

• COPD: as there is narrowing of the airways making it difficult to get required oxygen by the lungs , this causes excessive production of mucus and may cause one to have white sputum.

Yellow to Green

• Bronchitis

• Sinusitis when there is sinus infection by a bacteria there is green to yellow sputum.

• Pneumonia

• Cystic fibrosis


• Bacterial pneumonia

• Bacterial bronchitis

• Lung abscess

• Pneumoconiosis

• Cystic fibrosis


• Smoking the tar gets trapped in mucus hence the black colour

• Pneumoconiosis

• Fungal infection by exophialadermatitidis


• Tuberculosis

• COPD when the symptoms worsen

• Cystic fibrosis

• Foreign body

• Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener’s granulomatosis)

• Drug usage like snorting cocaine

• Lung abscess

• Lung cancer

• Parasitic infection

• Pneumonia

• Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in an artery in the lung)

• Trauma to the chest

• Mitral valve stenosis

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• Sputum test: Patient is asked to cough out the sputum into a container. Generally from a deep cough in the morning. Patients are advised to have plenty of fluids to loosen up the secretions. At least 2 millilitres of sputum is required by the laboratory as adequate sample.


• Quit smoking: Quit cigarette smoking and avoid being a passive smoker as well.

• Wear a mask (N95 respirators) to avoid environmental stimuli like pollution, dust, fire smokes, by professionals at salons and building contractors.


• Vaccines: Getting annual flu vaccines to prevent influenza and virus and vaccine to prevent certain types of pneumonia.


• Maintaining hygiene: Simple steps like washing hands, use of hand sanitizers can prevent from infections and its spread.


• Getting good sleep overcomes the fatigue caused by chronic bronchitis and helps in repairing the damaged tissues. One should try sleeping with head raised by use of pillows since this facilities a smooth breathing process and helps in clearing the mucus.

• Drinking loads of fluid to prevent dehydration which can lead to dry throat and mouth, headache, dizziness and confusion. It also helps to loosen up the nasal mucosal secretions and reduces viscosity of the mucus produced. Chicken soup, warm apple juice and decaffeinated black or green tea are few alternative to plain water.


• Using a humidifier, symptoms are seen to get exacerbation in cold temperate and low humid air hence heated humidified air helps in loosing up and draining out the mucus.

• Using honey and lemon vs cough suppressants/ expectorants in initial stages.

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• Using essential oils: eucalyptus oil works by loosening the mucus

• Taking over the counter expectorants: They help in loosening up the mucus.

• Balanced healthy diet, taking nutrition and dietary supplements in speedy recovery and prevents infections.


• Dry ginger, long pepper and black pepper grinded to powder form taken along with honey, 3 times/day. This mixture has a highly anti-inflammatory action.

• Tomato soup with freshly grounded black pepper on the top they help in reduction of excessive mucus production

• Ginger soup/ tea

• Giloy juice brings down the inflammation and soothes the lining of the throat.

• Take Mustard oil and put few cloves of garlic and cook/ saute to golden brown. Then switch off the gas, let it cool, strain and use a little to massage on the chest. This helps in relieving chest congestion to some extent.

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