Coughing can be helpful because it helps to clear our airways, but it can also be uncomfortable, embarrassing and affect our ability to sleep, rest and eat. If you’re coughing up green or dark yellow phlegm (sputum), you may have an infection and may need to take antibiotics. Some people need physiotherapy to help them clear their airways.

Sometimes steam inhalations or saline given as a fine spray through a nebuliser are helpful. If you have a dry irritable cough, your doctor may prescribe a cough linctus to help. If your cough is persistent then painkillers like codeine or morphine can be helpful.

Occasionally people cough up blood. It’s important to let your doctor or nurse know if this happens or if the symptom gets worse. The treatment will depend on the cause, so you may need tests to find out what that is.

Some medical conditions can contribute to making sputum more difficult to cough up. Please speak to your doctor or nurse if this is happening to you. There are medicines that can be prescribed to loosen the sputum.


When to call for help

  • If there are signs of an infection present (e.g. high temperature, sweating, dirty sputum). Call your doctor as you may need antibiotics.
  • If you are coughing up blood
  • If the coughing persists and you are concerned, then seek help.


If you have an urgent enquiry for our medical and nursing teams (which may be for help and advice) please phone 01892 820515.  This phone number is answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Last reviewed: 01.10.2020

Next review date: 01.10.2023