What causes an increase in the amount of sputum?


Sputum or phlegm is a mucous substance secreted by the cells of the lower respiratory tract (bronchi and bronchioles) of the respiratory tract. It is different from saliva that is secreted higher up in the mouth. Sputum can be any color , including clear, white, yellow, green, pink, or red, as well as blood stained with blood for various diseases. In addition to dead cells, foreign particles that enter the lungs, and sometimes bacteria, phlegm. It contains white blood cells and other immune cells that protect the respiratory tract from infection . There are a number of diseases that lead to increased phlegm production. Sputum tests, such as sputum cytology and sputum culture, can be helpful in diagnosing disease.

What is sputum

As noted above, phlegm contains dead cells and debris from the lower respiratory tract, but it also plays a role in fighting infections by trapping bacteria and retaining white blood cells to fight them.

Sputum vs phlegm vs mucus vs saliva

Phlegm is secreted into the airways ( bronchi and bronchioles ) of the airways. Sputum is not the same as saliva, a substance secreted in the mouth to aid digestion. The terms phlegm and phlegm are used synonymously.

The term mucus can sometimes be used in place of phlegm, but phlegm refers to mucus that is specifically secreted in the respiratory tract, while mucus can also be produced in the gastrointestinal tract, urological tract, and genital tract.

Sputum source

Sputum, or phlegm, is coughing from the lower airways into the airways (the bronchi, bronchioles, and windpipe ) and not from the glands of the mouth and throat. It is produced by cells called goblet cells that line the airways.


Sputum is made up of secretions from the cells that line the airways, dead cells, foreign substances that enter the lungs, such as cigarette tar and air pollutants, as well as white blood cells and other immune cells. In infections, bacteria can also be present in sputum. Blood may also be present in sputum from lung cancer , airway injury, airway injury, and pulmonary edema.


The thickness of the phlegm serves to trap foreign material so that the cilia in the airways can pull it out of the lungs and up through the mouth, where it can be swallowed or coughed. Sputum also contains immune cells that can kill or consume bacteria so that they cannot stay in the lungs and cause infections.

Tobacco smoke makes the cilia in the airways less mobile (paralyzed). When this happens, sputum does not travel to the mouth with the cilia and can accumulate in the airways.

What does the color of sputum mean?

Sputum can be of different colors and consistencies, which can help identify certain conditions. For instance:

  • Clean sputum: Clean sputum is usually normal, although it can be increased in some lung conditions.
  • White or gray sputum: White or grayish sputum can also be normal, but may be present in excess in some lung conditions or precede other discoloration associated with other conditions.
  • Dark yellow / green phlegm – White blood cells, known as neutrophils , are green in color. These types of white blood cells are attracted to the site of bacterial infections, so lower respiratory tract bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, can lead to green phlegm. Yellow-green sputum is also characteristic of cystic fibrosis.
  • Brown sputum – Brown sputum due to the presence of tar is sometimes found in people who smoke. Sputum can also be brown or black due to the presence of old blood. Brown sputum is also common in black lung disease. These diseases, called pneumoconiosis, are caused by breathing substances like coal into the lungs.
  • Pink sputum: Pink sputum , especially pink frothy sputum, can be the result of pulmonary edema, a condition in which fluid and small amounts of blood leak from capillaries into the alveoli of the lungs . Pulmonary edema is a common complication of congestive heart failure. Pink or bloody sputum is commonly caused by tuberculosis throughout the world.
  • Bloody sputum Bloody sputum should always be tested, even traces of sputum with a blood tinge. Coughing up blood (hemoptysis) can be serious and is the first sign of lung cancer in 7 to 35 percent of people. Bloody sputum can also occur with pulmonary embolism, a condition in which a blood clot breaks loose in the leg. and travels to the lungs. Even 1 to 2 teaspoons of coughing up blood is considered a medical emergency, and coughing up a quarter glass of blood is considered massive hemoptysis and has a poor prognosis .

Increased production

Get Medical Information / Cindy Chang

Some conditions that lead to increased phlegm production include:

  • Chronic Bronchitis : Chronic bronchitis produces an increase in the amount of phlegm, and in fact the criteria for diagnosing chronic bronchitis include coughing up phlegm every day.
  • Bronchiectasis : This is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), often caused by chronic respiratory infections during childhood.
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Excess sputum production can also be caused by smoking and air pollution.

Sputum evaluation tests

Sputum can be tested in a laboratory to determine its contents, evaluate for infections, or find cancer. The tests may include:

  • Sputum culture. Sputum culture is done by placing a sputum sample on a growth medium (agar plate) and looking for growth. This can be done to identify the specific type of bacteria that causes pneumonia. Once a bacterial strain has been identified, the laboratory can perform additional tests to determine which antibiotic is most effective against these bacteria (susceptibility test) .
  • Sputum for TB: A sputum sample can be obtained to look for TB , although it often takes several samples to find one that is diagnostic.
  • Sputum cytology: In sputum cytology, a sample of sputum is evaluated under a microscope. This can be done to look for signs of tuberculosis or signs of cancer cells. It was once thought that sputum cytology could help diagnose lung cancer, but it is not an effective screening tool. However, if cancer cells are found, it could be a diagnosis of lung cancer . Then more tests will be needed to locate the cancer.

Obtaining a sample of sputum (instead of mucus) can be quite difficult, as it requires the person to cough up sputum from deep in the lungs.

Production decline

There are several ways to reduce sputum production, but the most important step is to diagnose and treat the underlying cause. With air pollution and smoking, the main reason is the body's attempt to rid itself of foreign objects, and excessive production of phlegm is a normal reaction. In this case, removing the font is the best approach. Medications that can help reduce phlegm include sprays and expectorants. In some situations, procedures such as postural drainage can be effective.

Frequently asked questions

  • Green sputum is a possible sign of a bacterial infection.

    Coughing up discolored phlegm can be concerning, but the color actually shows that your body is fighting an infection. However, if your symptoms get worse or do not improve, you may need antibiotics to get rid of the infection.

  • First, be sure to treat any underlying medical conditions, such as allergies, colds, or sinusitis . If excess mucus is still a problem, drink plenty of water, use a humidifier, change filters on heating and cooling systems, and use saline sprays to rinse your nostrils.

  • The color and appearance of COPD sputum can vary from person to person. It may be white and frothy, or mucus-like, cloudy and green, which may indicate a bacterial infection. The sputum is thicker than usual in COPD.

Get the word of drug information

Sputum is a substance produced by the respiratory tract that contains a combination of cells, foreign bodies, and white blood cells. The color, consistency, and amount of sputum can be important in the diagnosis of various diseases. Sputum imaging can also help diagnose conditions such as tuberculosis and even lung cancer. While increasing the amount of phlegm can be very annoying, it is often the body's attempt to rid itself of material (such as tar and other foreign bodies) that could otherwise get stuck in and damage the airways.

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