A Cough That Produces Mucus

What Causes Productive Cough?

Productive cough can have various causes, ranging in severity from 'needs attention' to 'life-threatening'.  Finding the true cause means ruling out or confirming each possibility – in other words, diagnosis.

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Diagnosis is usually a complex process due to the sheer number of possible causes and related symptoms.  In order to diagnose productive cough, we could:

  • Research the topic
  • Find a doctor with the time
  • Use a diagnostic computer system.
The process is the same, whichever method is used.

Step 1: List all Possible Causes

We begin by identifying the disease conditions which have "productive cough" as a symptom.  Here are eight possibilities (more below):
  • Food Allergies
  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Weakened Immune System
  • Milk Allergy
  • Acute Bronchitis
  • Tuberculosis

Step 2: Build a Symptom Checklist

We then identify all possible symptoms and risk factors of each possible cause, and check the ones that apply:
occasional episodes of diarrhea
severe flatulence
bloating caused by specific foods
tuberculosis in family members
regular runny nose
frequent stools
bags under eyes
severe fatigue after slight exertion
onion intolerance
gallbladder attacks
often/always feeling unusually cold
... and more than 60 others

Step 3: Rule Out or Confirm each Possible Cause

A differential diagnosis of your symptoms and risk factors finds the likely cause of productive cough:
Cause Probability Status
Weakened Immune System 94% Confirm
Asthma 29% Unlikely
Chronic Bronchitis 25% Unlikely
Milk Allergy 1% Ruled out
Tuberculosis 0% Ruled out
Pulmonary Embolism 0% Ruled out
Food Allergies 0% Ruled out
Acute Bronchitis 0% Ruled out
* This is a simple example to illustrate the process

Arriving at a Correct Diagnosis

The Analyst™ is our online diagnosis tool that learns all about you through a straightforward process of multi-level questioning, providing diagnosis at the end.

In the Respiratory Symptoms section of the questionnaire, The Analyst™ will ask the following question about a cough that produces mucus:
Do you have a cough that produces mucus (a 'productive cough')?
Possible responses:
→ Don't know
→ No
→ Yes, for less than a month
→ Yes, for over a month but less than a year
→ Yes, for more than a year
Based on your response to this question, which may indicate lack of productive cough, recent productive cough or chronic productive cough, The Analyst™ will consider possibilities such as:
Allergy to Cow's Milk

Respiratory symptoms of milk-protein allergy can include coughing, choking, gasping, nose colds, asthma and sneezing attacks.  [Annals of Allergy, 1951; p.9]


Not all people with asthma wheeze.  For some, chronic coughing, which often occurs during the night or after exercise, may be the only symptom.


A cough with phlegm is a common symptom of pneumonia.  Bacterial pneumonia involves a cough that usually produces rust-colored or greenish mucus.  Viral pneumonia often produces a dry cough at the beginning, which usually becomes worse and produces a small amount of mucus.

Pulmonary Embolism

A cough that begins suddenly, sometimes mixed with blood-streaked sputum, is a frequently-seen symptom of pulmonary embolism, but other symptoms are more likely to point to the correct diagnosis.


Tuberculosis of the lung is usually associated with a persistent cough that does not go away.  It may start as a dry cough that eventually leads to a productive cough with blood-stained sputum.

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