Chronic cough with a history of excessive sputum production. The spectrum and frequency of causes, key components of the diagnostic evaluation, and outcome of specific therapy

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy & Critical Care

Publication Date


Document Type



Adolescent; Adult; Aged; Aged, 80 and over; Chi-Square Distribution; Chronic Disease; Combined Modality Therapy; Cough; Diagnosis, Differential; Female; Humans; Male; Middle Aged; Prospective Studies; Remission Induction; Respiratory Function Tests; Sputum; Treatment Outcome


Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences


STUDY OBJECTIVE: To determine (1) the spectrum and frequency of causes of chronic cough with a history of excessive sputum production (CCS) and (2) the response of these causes to specific therapy. STUDY DESIGN: Prospective study utilizing the anatomic diagnostic protocol originally developed to diagnose chronic cough. PATIENTS: Seventy-one immunocompetent adults who complained of expectoration of greater than 30 mL of sputum per day. LOCATION: University hospital pulmonary outpatient clinic. RESULTS: Patients were seen an average of 4.2 times over 4.6 months before a specific diagnosis was made. The cause of CCS was determined in 97%. It was due to one cause in 38%, 2 in 36%, and three in 26%. Postnasal drip syndrome (PNDS) was a cause 40% of the time, asthma 24%, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) 15%, bronchitis 11%, bronchiectasis 4%, left ventricular failure 3%, and miscellaneous causes 3%. Among patients with a normal chest radiograph who were nonsmokers and not taking an angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor; CCS was due to PNDS, or asthma, or GERD, or all three in 100% of cases. Chest radiograph, methacholine inhalation challenge, 24-h esophageal pH monitoring, bronchoscopy, and spirometry with bronchodilator each had a sensitivity and negative predictive value of 100%. Chest radiograph and barium swallow had positive predictive values of only 38% and 30%, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: (1) The anatomic diagnostic protocol for cough is also valid for CCS; (2) the major causes of chronic excessive sputum production and chronic cough are so similar that CCS should be considered a form of chronic cough; (3) the evaluation of CCS is more complicated and takes longer than the evaluation of chronic cough; (4) the major strength of the laboratory diagnostic protocol is that it reliably rules out conditions; (5) the outcome of specific therapy is almost always successful; and (6) the term "bronchorrhea" can be misleading if it is applied to excessive sputum production before a specific diagnosis of its source is made since the most common cause of excessive sputum that is expectorated (PNDS) is a disorder of the upper respiratory tract. Therefore, nonspecific therapies theoretically aimed at reducing mucus production in the lower respiratory tract are not likely to be helpful.


Chest. 1995 Oct;108(4):991-7.

Journal/Book/Conference Title


Related Resources

Link to article in PubMed

PubMed ID