Cough: productive or ‘wet’ cough

A productive (‘wet’ or chesty) cough is when you have a cough that produces mucus or phlegm (sputum). You may feel congested and have a ‘rattly’ or ‘tight’ chest. Symptoms are often worse when waking up from sleep and when talking. The wet cough may be the last symptom left after a common cold infection. Depending on the cause of your productive cough, other symptoms may include: breathlessness; fever; cold and flu symptoms; wheeze; and chest pain. Causes of chesty coughs Causes of chesty (productive) coughs include: viral infections, including the common cold and influenza (the flu); bronchitis; pneumonia; smoking; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Other, less common causes of a wet cough include: bronchiectasis (a condition where the airways are damaged and abnormally wide causing a persistent, wet cough); and cystic fibrosis (an inherited condition that causes excessively thick mucus secretions in the airways). Diagnosis and tests Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. Tests that may be useful in diagnosing the cause of a chesty cough include: chest X-ray; sputum analysis (a sample of the mucus or phlegm that you have coughed up can be tested – usually to find out the organism causing a chest infection); blood tests; and lung function tests. When should you seek medical advice about a productive cough? You should seek medical advice if: you cough up blood (fresh blood or dried blood like coffee granules); you have a high temperature; you are short of breath or wheezy; the cough is mainly at night; you have chest pain when coughing; the cough has changed; you are a cigarette smoker; you have other symptoms such as an ongoing headache, sore ears or a rash; you have recently lost weight; the productive, wet cough has lasted longer than 5 days; the cough affects an infant or child under 5 years old; or you have high blood pressure, a heart complaint, respiratory illness (such as asthma), gastric problems, glaucoma, or are taking medicines for other conditions. Share this: Like Loading... Last Reviewed: 13/05/2014 myDr