Expectoration: What is it? Causes, Characteristics, Diagnosis and Treatment

A mucous secretion arises from the bronchial membrane; it is also usually known as sputum.

This mucus is necessary for cleaning the bronchi, so the membrane usually produces between 100 ml and 150 ml per day.

This secretion is usually unconsciously discharged by the body through the windpipe and is made up of water, cells, and mucus.

If the consistency, viscosity, color, and amount of this mucus change suddenly, it can be synonymous with a disease or condition in the respiratory tract or a sudden allergy.

The tone of this discharge can vary from transparent to:

  • Greenish.
  • Purulent.
  • Yellowish
  • Reddish
  • Brown.

Suppose this secretion tends to maintain a foul odor and is increasingly thick. In that case, the affected person should be examined by a doctor to determine if there is blood or pus in the expectoration to indicate the ideal treatment that he needs depending on the disease.

Also, the expectoration can be thick or with a reddish or brown hue if the individual is an active smoker. This is usually accompanied by a chronic cough and throat irritation.


Causes of Expectoration

Various factors can generate unusual changes in the expectoration. To determine these causes, the treating physician must know if the patient is an active or passive smoker and when he has been under this condition.

Similarly, the doctor should evaluate the hoarseness or possible sore throat and the color, appearance, and consistency of the mucus.

Also, diseases such as conical bronchitis, asthma, allergies, fungi, pathogens such as tuberculosis, aspergillosis, actinomycosis, or any condition in the airways or lungs can influence the appearance and shape of the discharge.

The change in the fluids of the expectoration can be a sign of the presence of a benign, malignant tumor or cancer in the lungs.


Depending on the condition, the characteristics of the expectoration may vary, including:

  • Chronic bronchitis: the discharge is mucous, glassy, ​​whitish, and constant.
  • Bronchial asthma: the shot becomes greenish or yellowish when the infection appears dense and, in some cases, purulent.
  • Cystic fibrosis: Phlegm tends to be greenish and thick in color. The presence of an infection generates this appearance.
  • Tuberculosis and actinomycosis: this type of lung condition causes the expectoration to have a brittle, slimy, and yellowish appearance.
  • Bronchiectasis: the discharge is excessive, thick, and greenish.
  • Hemoptysis: this condition causes the expectoration to contain a thread of blood product of acute infection. In some cases, it can be the beginning of cancer symptoms in the lungs.
  • Active smokers: due to its condition, it tends to have a brownish expectoration or, in some cases, an almost black and very thick tone.

Diagnosis of the Expectoration

A specialist doctor must analyze the change of the expectoration to determine the causes and the condition or disease that the organism possesses.

If the doctor, when performing a checkup on a patient, coughs with irregular expectoration, he should proceed to medical tests to determine the type of respiratory infection and indicate the treatment.

The sputum is benign when the illness is a viral cold or an allergy in most cases.

On the other hand, if the expectoration has a long period with abnormal color, odor, and texture, it can be a symptom of a dangerous disease for the patient’s health, such as lung cancer.

To rule out any serious condition, the doctor may request:

  • Bronchoscopy.
  • Chest X-ray.
  • Bronchoalveolar lavage.
  • Biopsy.


Depending on the condition, the treatment to be followed by the patient is determined.

In some cases, such as bacterial infections in the respiratory tract, it is necessary to take antibiotics, drink plenty of fluids, and keep the body at rest.

On the other hand, if the condition is a common cold, the usual thing is to use medications that expel the phlegm and move away from dust and the cold environment. The expectorants are a relief by reducing the viscosity of the discharge.

If the massive expectoration is due to allergies, it must be fought with drugs that eliminate or control it.

In the case of serious diseases such as lung cancer, treatment with chemotherapies should be followed.

For smokers, the recommendation is to stop this habit from reducing the risk of future diseases that can be harmful to health or even fatal.