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What are the causes, symptoms, and treatments for abnormal sputum?


The production of sputum(the mixture of saliva and mucus resulting from a cough) in the body is termed as abnormal, if it is not clear, white, or greyish in appearance or the production has increased.

Sputum is made up from the secretions of cells lining the respiratory tract, dead cells (foreign matter that is breathed into the lungs), white blood cells, and other cells from the immune system.

  • Medical diagnosis by a physician is required
  • Affects both men and women
  • Sputum culture may be required
  • Can be physically discomforting

Sputum is usually considered abnormal if the color is dark yellow/green (pneumonia or cystic fibrosis), brown (presence of tar), pink (pulmonary edema or TB), and bloody/red (pulmonary embolism or lung cancer). In certain conditions like chronic bronchitis, there might be an increase in the production of sputum and this too might need a sputum culture for accurate diagnosis.

Ages affected – The age of the patient is not an important factor in case of abnormal sputum as it affects people from all age groups and genders.


Partially self-diagnosable
Symptoms include increased sputum generation and difference in the color of the sputum. Pain while coughing is yet another indication of an underlying problem.
People may experience

Pain – Varying pain while coughing depending on the underlying condition.
Sputum changes – The sputum generated is not clear, greyish, or white and increase in the production of sputum.


Self-care: Stay hydrated. Avoid or quit smoking.

Medications: Any medications (prescribed or over-the-counter) will vary depending on the cause of the sputum abnormality.

Specialist: For other treatment options or in case of lack of significant improvement, consult an otorhinolaryngologist (ENT specialist).

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