Phlegm , also called sputum or sputum, is a substance produced in case of inflammation of the airways that can be caused by both a viral or bacterial infection and be the consequence of a state of inflammation due to exposure to irritants such as smoke , dust and allergens. Phlegm is formed by thickening of
the mucus, a substance produced naturally by the goblet cells present in the mucosa lining the airways. The mucus, produced in a quantity that varies between 25 and 150-200 mL per day, has a double fundamental function:

  • collects and filters the inhaled air, retaining dust, particles and microorganisms;
  • forms a thin layer (film) on the surface of the air mucous membranes, allowing them to be kept adequately hydrated.

Under normal conditions, the mucus is eliminated through the muco-ciliary clearance , a mechanism in which the cilia, present on the surface of the mucosal cells of the airways, push the secretion towards the nasopharynx to then be swallowed and then disposed of through the digestive tract.
When an inflammatory process takes place in the airways, the amount of mucus produced increases to the point that the elimination mechanism fails to fill the gap, causing the mucus to thicken into phlegm that will accumulate in the airways. At this point two mechanisms take over to eliminate the phlegm, namely cough and rhinorrhea (or need to blow your nose).
The phlegm can have different colors, from yellow to green up to pigmentations that indicate the presence of blood , and of different densities, depending on the triggering cause. These characteristics are useful to the physician in order to direct the diagnostic path of identification of the cause and therefore to prescribe the appropriate therapy. Yellow phlegm is typically found in diseases of
the upper airways, therefore from the common cold, to allergic manifestations, up to tracheitis and generally does not indicate a phenomenon to be worried about, but it is always recommended to talk to your doctor to establish a therapy. antibiotic or antihistamine if necessary.
The symptoms that accompany the presence of yellow phlegm are many: cough, runny nose (runny nose), fever, burning and sore throat, stuffy nose , difficulty breathing, general malaise and difficulty swallowing.
Having illustrated the mechanism of phlegm formation, indicated the relevant symptoms and those associated, and introduced the main manifestations, we can proceed by illustrating in more detail the diseases of the respiratory tract in which the presence of yellow phlegm is most frequently found . Let’s turn the page to read all the causes.

What are the main pathological causes of yellow phlegm production

Infectious rhinitis
We are talking about the common and banal cold which is the most common cause at the origin of the production of yellow-green phlegm . It is an inflammation that affects the mucous membrane of the upper airways and occurs purely in the winter months, resolving itself within a few days without requiring special care, except for anti-inflammatory and decongestant drugs to relieve symptoms (always behind indication of your doctor).
The most common symptoms are stuffy nose, headache, runny nose with expulsion of yellow-green mucus, and possibly referred pain in the middle ear. It is also frequent that the cough mechanism is established to facilitate the elimination of phlegm from the airways.

Process of inflammation of the tracheal mucosa due to both infections and chronic exposure to allergens or dust, which results in fever, sneezing, breathing difficulties, cough with yellow phlegm.

Inflammation of the pharyngeal mucosa caused by a bacterial infection, with the appearance of characteristic white plaques when the patient is asked to open his mouth. Sometimes pharyngitis is not due to an infection, but rather to exposure to chronic irritating factors, such as smoking. Symptoms include sore throat, cough with yellow phlegm , voice changes, fever, difficulty swallowing and general malaise.

Condition in which inflammation of the laryngeal mucosa occurs caused by both a viral and bacterial infection, which involves a burning sensation and pain in the throat, dry mouth, cough with production of yellow phlegm .

Allergic rhinitis
Phlogosis of the mucous membrane of the upper airways triggered by contact with one or more allergens, i.e. substances present in the environment, resulting in seasonal allergies (pollen), perennial allergies (saliva and dandruff of animals, dust, mite faeces) and mixed allergies. Contact with these substances involves the release of histamine with repercussions on the vasodilation of the nasal mucosa, triggering sneezing, rhinorrhea (production of transparent-light yellow mucus ) and nasal obstruction.

Nasal polyposis
This is a chronic inflammatory process affecting the nasal mucosa and paranasal sinuses. Inflammation causes edema, therefore swelling of the mucosa which reduces the flow of air in transit.
Therefore, among the symptoms felt there are: nasal obstruction, inability to perceive odors (anosmia) , changes in the voice (rhinophony), sinusitis and production of yellow phlegm of serous consistency.
The nasal polypit generally occurs bilaterally, constituting a benign factor, but sometimes it manifests itself as unilateral, a factor that could indicate the presence of a tumor. One of the most common forms of polyps is linked to Widal’s syndrome, also called aspirin intolerance syndrome, linked to the intake of acetylsalicylic acid.

Purulent otitis media
Disease triggered by a bacterial infection that leads to a condition of inflammation of the middle ear and the presence of a yellowish purulent exudate (pus) that occupies the eardrum cavity. It is a purely winter pathology, triggered by the typical bacteria that cause colds or respiratory tract infections. Several phases are identified:

  • Hyperemia : the eardrum appears reddened in relation to the state of inflammation associated with ear pain (otodynia) and a deficit of hearing capacity (hypoacusis);
  • Exudative phase: there is the formation of abundant pus which concentrates in the middle ear causing severe pain and an aggravation of hearing loss;
  • Perforation of the eardrum: Yellow phlegm , or pus, in the middle ear causes excessive pressure on the eardrum, causing it to rupture. Perforation of the eardrum involves the release of pus through the ear (otorrhea), this mechanism frees the eardrum from pressure and gives quick pain relief;
  • Restoration: the eardrum membrane then tends to reconstitute itself.

The therapy in these cases is purely antibiotic and generally amoxicillin is associated with clavulanic acid, or alternatively cephalosporins or quinolones (not to be administered to children as they are dangerous for the effects on cartilage in the growing age and for the increase in the possibility of convulsion ).

Diagnosis and treatments for yellow phlegm: what to do
The presence of yellow phlegm in the cough or in the handkerchief, after blowing the nose, as seen, can be an indication of many diseases of the respiratory tract, however it is rarely a condition that must scare.
In fact, in most cases it is one of the manifestations of a common cold (or infectious rhinitis), which can be added to symptoms such as nasal congestion, joint pain, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, disturbances of smell and taste. In this case it is sufficient to resort to a few remedies, such as staying in a warm and resting environment, following a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, then staying well hydrated, and if necessary, resorting to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (always on indication of the doctor in case you suffer from other pathologies).
If the symptoms are prolonged, if it is associated with fever, persistent cough, chills and the amount of phlegm expelled and full-bodied, it is necessary to contact your doctor, who, having assessed the condition, may deem it necessary to carry out a throat swab or a culture of the sputum to identify the infectious agent responsible for the disease, and thus establish a targeted therapy with antibiotic, which can be associated with anti-inflammatory and painkillers to counteract the symptoms. If an allergy
is suspected , then specific tests are prescribed, then the removal from the allergen (if possible), and the administration of antihistamines.
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