How to drutil the sputum
Written by Wiebke Posmyk • Medical editor
Checked by Dr. med. Frauke Gehring • General practitioner
Our content is based on well-founded scientific sources that reflect the currently recognized state of medical knowledge. We work closely with medical experts.Learn more
From white to red, from watery to slimy: sputum (sputum) can look very different. The color and texture often indicate the possible cause.
What is sputum?
Sputum is the medical term for Expectoration. Sputum consists of secretions that are formed by the lining of the airways and then coughed up from the airways. So it is not saliva that is formed in the mouth.
Sputum is made up of several components. These include water as well as water
- white blood cells (leukocytes)
- Tissue cells (so-called epithelial cells),
- Dust particles,
- possibly smoke particles,
- certain proteins (glycoproteins, albumin, fibrinogen, IgA) and
- Microorganisms from the oral flora.
If a person coughs up excessive mucus, it can indicate an illness. Depending on the cause, the sputum looks different. The sputum is then for example
- glassy and slimy,
- yellow-green and purulent,
- brownish to black,
- watery, tough or crumbly or
- interspersed with blood or the sputum is completely bloody.
The color and consistency can give the doctor initial clues as to the cause.
This is how sputum is created
A slimy secretion forms permanently in the airways. "Producers" of the mucus are special cells in the bronchial mucous membrane: the so-called goblet cells. As a result, a large part of the airway is thinMucus layer covered. And that's a good thing - because when you breathe in, not only air but also lots of foreign bodies get into the bronchial system. These include, for example, pollen or fine dust.
If these particles were to remain permanently in the airways, they would be contaminated after a short time. The body knows how to defend itself against this: some of the inhaled substances find their way out again when they exhale. The rest is caught by the protective mucus layer and transported out of the body with it.
It works like this:
Finest, movable Cilia in the bronchi constantly transport the mucus towards the mouth like on a treadmill. Once there, the slime will either
- swallowed and digested in the stomach or
- coughed up in the form of sputum.
The latter usually happens whentoo muchmucus is available.
That slimy secretion forms in the airways is a completely normal physical process. If too much mucus forms, it will be coughed up. Then one speaks of sputum.
Excessive or unnaturally colored sputum (sputum) is primarily indicative of a respiratory disease.
If too much mucus builds up in the airways, it can be a sign that the bronchial mucosa
- damagedis, for example, through foreign bodies or inhaled pollutants, or that they
- ignited is, for example, because a virus or bacteria caused an infection.
Possible causes of sputum include:
There is often an increased expectoration of sputumharmless symptom a cold or allergy. As a precaution, however, consult a doctor if
- Cough and sputum last longer,
- You have bloody sputum or if the sputum is purulent in color or
- there are other severe complaints, e.g. shortness of breath.
In the conversation, the doctor gets some ask to the exact complaints, for example:
If the sputum is bloody, the doctor needs to clarify whether the sputum actually came from the airways. It is also possible that the blood has run from the gums or sinuses into the throat and is then coughed up with it.
The color and texture indicate the cause
The color and texture of the sputum can indicate possible causes. However, the doctor cannot make a diagnosis on the basis of appearance or consistency alone.
- Tougher, more glassy-whitish, slimierSputum occurs, for example, in bronchitis, bronchial asthma or cystic fibrosis (cystic fibrosis).
- Yellow-green, slimy-purulent expectorationcan indicate infections, e.g. bronchitis or pneumonia.
- Whitish dischargeoften occurs in smokers whose airways are chronically irritated.
- Very large amounts of voluminous, often green-yellowish sputumcan indicate pathological expansions in the lungs (bronchiectasis).
- Frothy sputumcan be an indication of pulmonary edema.
- Bloody sputum(Hemoptysis) occurs when the lining of the airways is inflamed and damaged. Bloody sputum can be a sign of a serious infection (such as pneumonia), but also of malignant tumors (e.g. lung cancer). It is also possible that the sputum is composed entirely of blood. This can happen, for example, with lung cancer or when a bronchial artery has ruptured.
If necessary, the doctor will take blood, which is tested in the laboratory for inflammation values or pathogens. The cells in the sputum can also be examined under the microscope.
Depending on what cause the doctor suspects, you canadditional examinations be useful. Bloody sputum, for example, should always be clarified, especially in smokers.
Possible further investigations include, for example
Increased sputum (sputum) is not a disease in its own right, but a symptom. The therapy depends on which cause is responsible for the sputum:
- In the case of bacterial infections of the respiratory tract, for example, antibiotics may be necessary.
- In the case of acute bronchitis, it often helps to drink enough, to keep warm and to take it easy.
Video: 5 tips for coughing and hoarseness
If the cough is productive, i.e. associated with sputum, therapy can be usedexpectorant and expectorant agents (Secretolytics, mucolytics, expectorants) as tablets, juices and inhalations are used. These so-called "cough removers" are supposed to reduce the toughness (viscosity) of the mucus and thereby make it more fluid, so that the patient can cough up the sputum better.
Active ingredients contained in cough removers are among others
To relieve the inflammation of the mucous membranes in the throat and bronchi, anti-inflammatory agents can work in certain cases (e.g. inhalations containing cortisone).
If you are a smoker: (Not only) with coughing and sputum, you should avoid smoking as much as possible!
Online information from the Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Health and Environment (GmbH): www.lungeninformationsdienst.de (as of July 18, 2018)
Sputum. Online information from the Pschyrembel: www.pschyrembel.de (as of May 2018)
Relieve runny nose, cough and sore throat. Online information from the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG): www.gesundheitsinformation.de (as of September 20, 2017)
Neurath, M., Lohse, A .: Checklist anamnesis and clinical examination. Thieme, Stuttgart 2015
Siegenthaler, W. (Ed.): Siegenthaler's differential diagnosis internal diseases. From symptom to diagnosis. Thieme, Stuttgart 2013
Boenninghaus, H.G., Lenarz, T .: Ear, Nose and Throat Medicine. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg 2012
ICD-10 Diagnostic Key:
You can find the appropriate ICD-10 code for "Sputum (sputum)" here:
Onmeda reading tips:
Last content check:27.06.2019
Last change: 27.06.2019
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