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
  • Asthma
  • Milk Allergy
  • Pneumonia
  • Acute Bronchitis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Weakened Immune System

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:
being very skinny
blue/bluish fingernails
difficult exhalation
onion intolerance
gallbladder attacks
moderate meal-induced pain
rapid pulse rate
occasional sore throats
frequent stools
... and more than 70 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
Pneumonia 91% Confirm
Milk Allergy 26% Unlikely
Pulmonary Embolism 20% Unlikely
Asthma 2% Ruled out
Acute Bronchitis 0% Ruled out
Weakened Immune System 0% Ruled out
Food Allergies 0% Ruled out
Tuberculosis 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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