Mucous Sputum : Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Last Updated: 19/09/2022

Mucous sputum is formed in inflammatory diseases of the upper (chronic rhinitis, pharyngitis) and lower respiratory tract (hyperplastic laryngitis, tracheitis, bronchitis and viral pneumonia). Rare causes of the symptom include the ingress of a foreign body into the bronchi, bronchopulmonary tumors, and pulmonary edema. For diagnostic purposes, it is necessary to perform chest x-ray, ENT examination and bronchoscopy, spirometry. Be sure to conduct a microscopic and bacteriological analysis of sputum mucosa. Treatment includes drugs (expectorant, antiviral, anti-inflammatory), physiotherapy, surgical techniques.

Causes of mucous sputum

Chronic rhinitis

Cough with mucous sputum in rhinitis is caused by irritation of the posterior pharyngeal wall with flowing mucus. The patient experiences tickling and sensation in the throat of a foreign body, to eliminate which a cough reflex occurs. Expectoration of a small amount of clear discharge occurs in the morning after sleep, as well as with prolonged lying down. After coughing up the mucous sputum, the discomfort disappears.


For inflammation of the pharynx, a dry cough is typical, but sometimes it turns into a wet one with the release of mucous sputum. Pharyngitis is manifested by expectoration of a small amount of clear mucus that does not have an unpleasant odor. The symptom persists for 3-5 days, combined with constant sore throat. A coughing fit with expectoration of sputum begins without visible provoking factors, but can be aggravated by loud speech, inhalation of cold air.

Chronic hyperplastic laryngitis

This pathology is characterized by the release of a meager amount of mucous sputum in the morning, accompanied by sore throat and coughing. The symptom worries a person for 3 weeks or more. For laryngitis, a constant sensation of a foreign body and discomfort in the throat is pathognomonic. An attempt to cough up results in a small amount of mucus, usually without relief.


The disease manifests itself with the release of clear mucus after a paroxysmal excruciating cough. Gradually, the volume of mucous sputum increases, it becomes cloudy. If tracheitis develops against the background of a bacterial infection, purulent streaks appear in the mucous secretion. Patients complain of frequent cough paroxysms that occur with laughter, loud talking, deep breaths.


Coughing up medium or large quantities of mucous sputum is a typical symptom of catarrh of the bronchi. In an acute process, a constant cough and discharge of odorless clear or cloudy mucus are disturbing. Symptoms last 1-3 weeks. In chronic bronchitis, expectoration of mucous discharge lasts for several weeks and even months. Coughing up mucous sputum in the morning is typical of smoker's bronchitis.

Mucous sputum



Expectoration of a large amount of mucus occurs with inflammation of the lungs of a viral or mycoplasmal etiology. Sputum production begins 2-4 days after the onset of the disease. The mucus is transparent, without pathological inclusions, sometimes it is viscous and is difficult to cough up. The symptom is complemented by febrile fever, pain in the chest. If coughing and expectoration of mucous sputum lasts more than 3 months, protracted pneumonia is diagnosed.

Whooping cough

Cough with expectoration of mucous sputum is characteristic of the period of resolution of the infectious process. At this time, coughing paroxysms become rare and less prolonged, after an attack, the child spits out clear mucus in small quantities. Depending on the severity of whooping cough, symptoms persist from several days to several months. Gradually, the amount of secreted mucous sputum decreases.

Pulmonary edema

The release of clear sputum when coughing is observed at the stage of alveolar edema, when fluid from the blood vessels enters the lungs. The condition develops suddenly, the patient feels difficulty in breathing, unsuccessfully tries to clear his throat. The amount of secreted mucus increases. In severe cases, instead of mucous sputum, when breathing and coughing, pink foam appears, indicating the entry of red blood cells from the blood into the alveoli.

lung adenocarcinoma

At the initial stages of the disease, a person is disturbed by periodic coughing, accompanied by the release of liquid transparent mucus. With the progression of a malignant tumor in the lungs and bronchi, a large amount (up to 1-2 liters per day) of watery sputum is formed, which the patient is forced to constantly expectorate in order to facilitate breathing. If the adenocarcinoma grows into the surrounding tissues, the mucus is replaced by bloody sputum.

Foreign body in the bronchus

With a small size of a foreign object, breathing is preserved. The patient is disturbed by a periodic cough, in which clear liquid mucus is expectorated. Symptoms are observed until the moment the foreign body is removed. If this does not happen, inflammation develops in the bronchus with an increase in the amount of secreted mucous sputum, which eventually becomes more cloudy and viscous.


The primary examination of a patient with complaints of mucous sputum is often performed by a general practitioner, who, if necessary, gives a referral to an otolaryngologist or pulmonologist. To make a preliminary diagnosis, it is enough to collect complaints, auscultate the lungs, visually examine the tonsils and pharynx. The plan of clarifying diagnostic studies includes the following methods:

  • ENT examination. With direct and indirect laryngoscopy, the doctor assesses the condition of the mucous membrane of the larynx, reveals signs of inflammation, hypertrophy. With the help of a fibrolaryngoscope, a biopsy of atypical areas is made. If chronic rhinitis is suspected, anterior and posterior rhinoscopy provides valuable information.
  • X-ray of the OGK. Carrying out a radiograph in two projections allows you to identify changes typical of inflammatory or tumor processes of the bronchopulmonary system. To clarify the diagnosis, targeted studies are prescribed: fluoroscopy, CT and MRI of the chest organs.
  • Endoscopic diagnostics. During bronchoscopy, the mucous membrane of the bronchi of large and medium caliber is visualized. The method is used to diagnose chronic bronchitis, neoplasia, fibrotic changes. With the help of endoscopy, biopsy specimens are taken for histological examination, bronchial washings.
  • Sputum analysis. Bronchial mucus culture is necessary to detect viral or atypical bacterial infections. Microscopic examination of mucosal sputum pays attention to pathognomonic crystals and spiral accumulations of mucus. To exclude tuberculosis, microscopy of the material after special staining is required.

Among laboratory methods, a general blood test is informative, which makes it possible to differentiate inflammatory and other pathologies of the respiratory system. In a biochemical study, acute phase indicators are studied. Recommended serological tests aimed at the search for antibodies to pathogenic microorganisms. To measure the function of external respiration and diagnose chronic diseases, spirometry, peak flowmetry are indicated.

Sputum analysis



Help before diagnosis

In acute inflammatory lesions of the respiratory organs, unhindered discharge of mucous sputum should be ensured. To improve the drainage function of the bronchial tree, it is recommended to drink plenty of warm water, maintaining optimal humidity in the room. All medical methods of treatment can be used only after a visit to the doctor.

Conservative therapy

Mucous sputum as a symptom does not require special treatment, since it disappears after exposure to the underlying disease. In cases where there is too much mucus and its expectoration is difficult, postural drainage techniques are recommended, drugs with mucolytic and secretomotor effects are prescribed. Physiotherapy methods are effective - alkaline and oil inhalations, UHF and electrophoresis on the anterior surface of the chest.

To influence the root causes of sputum discharge, antiviral, antiallergic drugs are used. Antibiotics are not indicated, they are used only for the mucopurulent nature of the bronchial discharge. Anti-inflammatory drugs speed up recovery, relieve subjective symptoms. In chronic bronchitis, therapeutic bronchoscopy is performed for washing and targeted administration of medications.


In hypertrophic rhinitis, to improve nasal breathing, partial or total conchotomy, laser vasotomy, and cryodestruction of growths are performed. For the treatment of hyperplastic laryngitis, decortication of the vocal folds, removal of "singing nodules" are indicated. Radical surgery for malignant tumors of the bronchi and lungs includes resection of the affected lobe or pneumonectomy, excision of the lymph nodes involved in the process.

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