Sputum is the substance expelled by coughing. Approximately 75 to 100 mL of sputum is secreted daily by the bronchi. By ciliary action, it is brought up to the throat and then swallowed unconsciously with the saliva. An increase in the quantity of sputum production is the earliest manifestation of bronchitis. Sputum may contain cellular debris, mucus, blood, pus, or microorganisms.
Sputum should be described according to color, consistency, quantity, the number of times it is brought up during the day and night, and the presence or absence of blood. An adequate description may indicate a cause of the disease process. Uninfected sputum is odorless, transparent, and whitish-gray, resembling mucus; it is termed mucoid. Infected sputum contains pus and is termed purulent; the sputum may be yellow, greenish, or red. Table 13-2 lists the appearances of sputum and their possible causes.
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