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Sputum, or phlegm, is a mixture of saliva and mucus that you’ve coughed up. Blood-tinged sputum occurs when the sputum has visible streaks of blood in it. The blood comes from somewhere inside of your body, either from along the respiratory tract or digestive system. The respiratory tract includes the:
Sometimes, blood-tinged sputum is a symptom of a serious medical condition. However, blood-tinged sputum is a relatively common occurrence, and typically isn’t cause for immediate concern. If you’re coughing up blood with little or no sputum, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Common causes of blood-tinged sputum include:
More serious causes of blood-tinged sputum, which require medical treatment, can include:
Lower respiratory infections or inhaling a foreign object are the likely causes of blood-tinged sputum in children.
You should call your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms.
These symptoms are associated with serious medical conditions.
When you see your doctor to diagnose the reason behind the blood-tinged sputum, they’ll first ask you if there was any noticeable cause such as:
They will also ask how long you’ve had blood-tinged sputum. They will ask how the sputum looks, how many times you cough it up in the day, and the amount of blood in the phlegm.
Your doctor will listen to your lungs while you breathe, and may look for other symptoms of concern, like a rapid heart rate, wheezing, or crackles. They’ll also ask you about your medical history.
Your doctor may also run one or more of these imaging studies or procedures to diagnose you:
Treating blood-tinged sputum will rely on treating the underlying condition causing it. In some cases, treatment can also involve reducing inflammation or other related symptoms you’re experiencing.
Treatments for blood-tinged sputum can include:
For people who are coughing up massive amounts of blood, treatment first focuses on stopping the bleeding, preventing aspiration, which occurs when foreign material gets into your lungs, and then treating the underlying cause.
Call your doctor before using any cough suppressants, even if you know the underlying cause of your symptoms. Cough suppressants can lead to airway obstructions or keep the sputum trapped in your lungs, prolonging or worsening an infection.
Blood-tinged sputum can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying condition that’s unavoidable, but methods are available to help prevent some cases of it. The first line of prevention is to prevent the respiratory infections most likely to cause it.
You can do the following to prevent blood-tinged sputum:
Written by: Ana Gotter
Medically reviewed on: May 19, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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