Under normal conditions, this viscous liquid – called mucus – is produced in quantities ranging from 20 to 100 ml/day, necessary to humidify the respiratory tract and capture dust and microorganisms.
Causes Of Catarrh
Increased mucus production is a common symptom of various respiratory tract diseases, some as trivial as the classic cold , others a little less so, such as chronic bronchitis or tuberculosis . The mucus produced under inflammatory stimulus is called phlegm, because it is more abundant than normal (up to 400/500 ml/day), but also because it is different in its composition, which makes it denser and stickier.
Since the abnormal production of phlegm represents an obstacle to the circulation of air in the airways, the body tries to expel the excess through the involuntary movements of the eyelashes and coughing (expectoration), hence the term sputum .
The analysis of phlegm, subjected to chemical-physical and bacteriological examination, is able to provide important information on the nature of the respiratory disease.
The simple observation of its macroscopic characteristics (odor, colour, consistency) provides the doctor with useful elements for a general assessment of the disease.
White and foamy phlegm
A liquid, foamy and whitish phlegm is mainly made up of mucus, a sign of non-specific bronchial irritation, not sustained or in any case only partially, by pathogens. It is typical of smokers, allergies, but also asthmatics and subjects suffering from COPD (in the latter two categories of patients it can be particularly dense).
A viscous and yellowish-greenish catarrh is caused by an infection of the nose and/or respiratory tract; denser, it is difficult to expectorate and is characterized by the presence of purulent material ( pus ), rich in leukocytes ; it is typical of bacterial infections (when greenish of anaerobes).
A green catarrh is indicative of a prolonged stagnation of purulent mucus in the bronchi , which in addition to the typical color also acquires a fetid odor (ganrenous sputum). It is typical of pulmonary abscesses and gangrenes, or bronchiectasis caused by repeated bacterial infections.
The presence of blood streaks in the sputum may be the consequence of microlesions of the respiratory mucosa produced during coughing efforts. In any case, it is a symptom that should not be underestimated, as it is also common in neoplasms , pulmonary infarctions and bacterial pneumonias of various kinds [in these cases the phlegm takes on a color that goes from pink (typical of pulmonary edema ) to red rust (typical of pneumococcal pneumonia ), due to the simultaneous presence of blood and purulent material)].
Currant Jelly Phlegm
Currant jelly catarrh is typical of Klebsiella Pneumoniae pneumonia
A blackish catarrh is typical of anthracosis, an occupational disease – rare today – caused by prolonged inhalation of coal dust particles.
Catarrh And Cough
Another useful feature for diagnostic purposes is the way in which excess phlegm is eliminated; as a rule, in fact, it is expelled without coughing when it comes from the nose or pharynx , and through coughing (sputum or sputum) when it is produced and accumulated at the bronchial level.
If the appearance of phlegm and other clinical signs suggest the possible presence of a bacterial infection, the microbiological examination allows a more precise diagnostic classification, useful for choosing the antibiotics active against those particular microorganisms.
The cytological examination of sputum , aimed at searching for neoplastic cells, can highlight the presence of lung cancer . However, this test – due to its low sensitivity – cannot be used as a screening test for lung cancer .
Finally, in bronchial asthma, the evaluation of eosinophils in the sputum is used to evaluate and monitor the degree of bronchial inflammation and the response to pharmacological treatments over time .
Expectorants (such as guaifenesin ) are drugs used to eliminate the catarrhal secretion produced and accumulated in excessive quantities in the respiratory tree, while mucolytics ( such as carbocysteine ) increase the fluidity of the phlegm, facilitating its elimination .
Licorice roots and Polygala roots are widely used in the phytotherapeutic field , rich in triterpene saponins ; in the presence of catarrh, it is also useful to take essential oils ( eucalyptus , thyme , pine, fir or niaouli ) in the form of herbal teas (pay attention to the irritating effect on the oral mucosa), coated tablets, capsules or by inhalation (always keeping Please note that fumigations with essential oils can cause allergic reactions , bronchospasm andasthma attacks , especially in children).