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 mean 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 doctor can evaluate your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David Messenger, BSc, MD, FRCPC, FCCP - Emergency Medicine, Critical Care Medicine

Current as ofDecember 6, 2017

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

Thanks to our partners and endorsers: