Phlegm (which also takes the name of sputum or sputum ) is a substance produced and secreted under pathological conditions by the goblet -like mucous glands, structures located in the thickness of the mucous membrane that lines the respiratory tract.
In physiological conditions, however, the substance produced by these glands is called mucus . A distinction that allows us to divide the normal conditions from the pathological ones.
The mucusit is normally produced by the muciparous glands located above all at the level of the nasal mucosa and paranasal sinuses, but these structures are also present in the digestive system and in the genitourinary system in a quantity that varies between 25 and 150-200 mL per day.
Let’s see what the functions of mucus are in detail in the next paragraph.

What are the functions of the mucus ?
The phlegm or mucus has a defensive action on the mucous membrane that lines the respiratory tract, in fact it has the task of incorporating the particles of coal and the bacteria inhaled into the nostril during breathing and has the task of keeping the mucous surface.
The mucusThe product is then eliminated by a mechanism that takes the name of muco-ciliary clearance, according to which the cilia present on the surface of the cells of the respiratory mucosa make a movement in the direction of the nasopharynx, where the mucus will then be ingested and eliminated.
When an inflammatory process occurs in the airways, often due to a viral or bacterial infection or due to chronic lesions (typical of smokers), the goblet cells produce a much greater quantity of phlegm (which at this point takes its name of phlegm, sputum or sputum ).
At this point, the elimination process fails to make up for the excess fluid produced which therefore will deposit and accumulate in the lower airways (larynx, trachea, bronchi and lungs) causing an obstruction of the airways that does not allow air inspired to transit correctly.
However, phlegm is not always the same and there are different types that we will talk about in the next paragraph.

How many types of phlegm exist Phlegm
differs according to its density and color.
The secretion of whitish liquid typeit is typically associated with mild disturbances affecting the upper airways, such as colds, but is also associated with allergic manifestations and flu. A denser
phlegm, on the other hand , is associated with diseases that affect the lower airways (trachea, bronchi and lungs) and which therefore are concentrated in a deeper area of ​​the bronchial tree.
As for the color, green typically indicates a bacterial disease affecting the bronchi while yellowish or yellow phlegm ,instead, it mainly indicates the presence of bacteria and is found following diseases affecting the upper airways (nose, paranasal sinuses).
If the sputum appears red , however, particular attention must be paid, because it is usually due to the presence of blood in the phlegm due to small lesions or wounds due to continuous coughing or the need to blow the nose continuously.
Sometimes, however, it can be the alarm bell for much more serious pathological conditions, including lung tumors. In subjects who smoke instead, there is a grayish-white sputum , typically linked to a state of chronic inflammation.
The density and color of the sputum will be carefully evaluated by the doctor, therefore we invite you to pay attention to the variations in the characteristics of the phlegm and to report them to the doctor during the visit.

What happens when there is a buildup of phlegm in the airways
The excess mucus must be eliminated somehow. Therefore, mechanisms of forced expulsion of phlegm will occur such as:

  • cough , if inflammation affects the bronchi;
  • mucus running from the nose ( rhinorrhea ) if the pathological process affects the other airways (i.e. the nose or paranasal sinuses);
  • phlegm in the ears due to its direct connection with the nasopharynx by means of the Eustachian Trumpet (or tuba).

These mechanisms are associated with other typical symptoms such as fever, headache due to obstruction of the paranasal sinuses, ear pain (otalgia), feeling of lack of balance (dizziness) and tinnitus , and breathing difficulties due to the accumulation of phlegm that does not allows air to pass freely from the nose to the lungs.
At this point we are going to provide an overview of the main pathologies that lead to the production of phlegm .

Main inflammations that lead to the formation of phlegm
The most common causes of accumulation of mucus or phlegmin the airways they depend on inflammation or irritation of the mucous membrane that lines the bronchial tree.
Here we have reported the most frequent and common cases.

Common cold
This is inflammation limited to the upper airways. The symptoms typically felt by the patient are the sensation of a stuffy nose, due to a lower flow of air which also affects the paranasal sinuses causing headache and rhinorrhea with catarrh running from the nose.
The person then typically sneezes as a reflex mechanism to clear the airways and coughs. Generally, this pathology resolves itself within a few days and does not require special treatments, other than anti-inflammatory and decongestants to relieve symptoms.
On the other hand, subjects who have alterations or pathologies of the immune system require more medical attention.

This is an inflammation that affects the mucous membranethat lines the pharynx. Pharyngitis is caused by mainly bacterial bacterial diseases which are characterized by the presence of white plaques that are clearly visible when asked to open the mouth. It is a contagious condition, therefore it requires adequate therapies which consist precisely in the intake of antibiotics.
However, it must also be said that some of the subjects affected by this inflammation are not affected by an infection, but by a chronic inflammation (typical of smokers).

Laryngitis is inflammation of the laryngeal mucosa of both bacterial and viral nature. The patient complains of severe pain and discomfort in the throat, cough and a sense of dry mouth in addition to the consistent production of phlegm .

It is one of the most common affections of the respiratory tract and also the main cause of cough and phlegm due to bacterial, viral or chronic damage such as smoking.
There is inflammation of the mucous membrane of the bronchi and an important expulsion of green phlegm by a continuous cough. An acute form is identified, which tends to resolve itself shortly afterwards (if caused by viruses), or with the aid of antibiotics (if a bacterial over-infection is established), and a chronic form due to smoking, pollution , or exposure to irritants. Bronchitis without fever is a fairly common occurrence in the population and can be both acute and chronic.

What are the diagnostic criteria taken into consideration ? Diagnosis involves
the typical steps of a common medical examination:

  • Anamnesis : during this phase the doctor collects all those signs and symptoms useful for understanding the state of health of the subject, how long the problem persists, when it occurs, the associated symptoms (fever, breathing difficulties, ear pain) and the general clinical picture of the patient. patient;
  • Physical examination : the characteristics of the phlegm illustrated above are taken into consideration (color, variations, density), which will be fundamental to direct the doctor towards a precise diagnostic suspicion and therefore to an adequate therapy;
  • Sputum examination : if it is necessary to investigate the composition of the phlegm, in-depth analyzes can be carried out to discover the pathogen responsible for the disease state and the possible presence of blood or other factors of interest;
  • Instrumental diagnostic tests : in some cases it is useful to perform a chest x-ray examination to examine the possible accumulation of fluids and secretions in the lower airways.

What are the most effective remedies and therapies
The decision on which is the most appropriate therapeutic indication is based on the cause of the production of phlegm, on its extent and on the general condition of the patient. Therefore, this phase is solely up to the doctor.
A mild airway disease if not properly treated can result in much more serious clinical conditions, therefore the invitation is to be wary of any type of remedy found on the internet and to rely exclusively on the doctor’s care.
When it comes to a common cold, however, it is sufficient to implement a few simple strategies to dissolve the phlegmand facilitate their expulsion. One of the most effective methods remains that of aerosol, both with simple physiological solution and with bronchodilator drugs to be taken on medical prescription.
Having clarified this, in general, if the state of inflammation is caused by a virus, an anti-cough drug is administered to calm the cough. In particular, during the night to promote sleep, if fever is present an antipyretic is associated and the patient is advised to keep well hydrated, to remain in a suitably humidified environment (by means of environmental humidifiers), this to maintain the correct humidity of the air mucous membranes and to dissolve phlegm .
If the affection is bacterial in nature, the therapeutic process is more or less similar (remember that each case is if) but in addition an antibiotic treatment is also administered.
An important chapter is that relating to newborns , in fact in this age group children tend to get sick very often due to the immune defenses not yet fully developed. Newborns do not yet have the ability to expel phlegm , therefore this mechanism must be facilitated by aerosol, physiological solution and broncho-dilator drugs (on exclusive medical prescription). Never administer fluidifiers due to the risk of respiratory obstruction due to the inability to expel phlegm .
If the cough persists for more than a week, a medical examination and the hypothesis of having to administer antibiotics are necessary.
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