Topic Overview

A productive cough helps clear mucus (sputum) and foreign material
from the airways. Mucus may be made in the lungs because of
pneumonia, or
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Colds and allergies may produce mucus that drains down the back of
the throat (postnasal drainage). Home treatment may be all that is
needed to provide relief if you have a productive cough and postnasal 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 color 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 postnasal
  • The sputum is rust-colored or contains bright red
  • It lasts longer than 10 days.
  • It occurs with
    other symptoms. These may include:

    • Fever and chills.
    • Shortness of
    • Chest pain.
    • Night sweats.
    • Weight
  • You have a known exposure to

A doctor can evaluate your symptoms and recommend
appropriate treatment.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP – Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine

Current as ofMarch 25, 2017