Productive Coughs

Productive Coughs

Topic Overview

A productive cough helps clear mucus (sputum) and foreign material from the airways. Mucus may be made in the lungs because of bronchitis , pneumonia , or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Colds and allergies may produce mucus that drains down the back of the throat ( postnasal drainage ). Home treatment may be all that is needed to provide relief if you have a productive cough and postnasal drainage but do not have other symptoms.

A productive cough in a person who smokes is often a sign of lung damage. For smokers, the most effective way to treat a cough is to stop smoking. A change in the cough or in the color or quantity of sputum may mean a bacterial lung infection.

A productive cough is a more serious when:

  • It produces sputum from the lungs (not postnasal drainage).
  • The sputum is rust-colored or contains bright red blood.
  • It lasts longer than 10 days.
  • It occurs with other symptoms. These may include:
    • Fever and chills.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Chest pain.
    • Night sweats.
    • Weight loss.
  • You have a known exposure to tuberculosis .

A doctor can evaluate your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerDavid Messenger, MD
Last RevisedDecember 21, 2011

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