Productive Coughs

Search Knowledgebase

Topic Contents

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 (post-nasal drainage). Home treatment may be all that is needed to provide relief if you have a productive cough and post-nasal 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 colour or quantity of sputum may indicate a bacterial lung infection.

A productive cough is a more serious when:

  • It produces sputum from the lungs (not post-nasal drainage).
  • The sputum is rust-coloured 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 health professional can evaluate your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer David Messenger, MD
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Last Revised April 15, 2010

Last Revised: April 15, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.