Frothy sputum is foam-like mucus coughed up from the airways. It is a sign of respiratory distress and can occur in association with a number of different medical conditions. Patients who develop frothy sputum should make an appointment to see a medical professional, and may want to consider an emergency room if they are having difficulty breathing or feel extremely disoriented. Some respiratory illnesses onset very quickly and can be fatal or severely debilitating if not treated rapidly.
Patients with frothy sputum may cough more than usual and produce foamy clots of mucus. Sometimes it is tinged pinkish, indicating that bleeding may be occurring in the airways. In a medical evaluation, a doctor may take a sample for analysis in a pathology lab. An evaluation can determine if the frothy sputum contains viruses, bacterias, or other clinical indicators that might explain why it is occurring.
This can be a symptom of pulmonary edema, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, or tuberculosis. Patients may also wheeze and have difficulty breathing, and could develop an irregular heart rate. To treat frothy sputum, medical providers need to find out why it is happening. They may support the patient with an oxygen mask, elevated bed, and other measures. If necessary, the patient can be intubated and put on a mechanical ventilator.
In a person who has an existing respiratory condition like chronic asthma, frothy sputum can be a sign of a flareup or failure to respond to treatment. It is advisable to call the person who supervises the patient’s medical care to discuss the symptom and determine the next step. A wait and see approach may be advised, or the patient might need to come in to the office for evaluation. The sudden development of frothy sputum in someone who is otherwise healthy may be a sign of a rapidly-developing lung problem that requires immediate attention.
Some of the conditions known for causing this symptom are contagious. To be on the safe side, patients should cover their mouths when they cough and dispose of any tissues appropriately, to avoid transmitting organisms to other people in the area. If they are feeling well enough to engage in normal activities, they may also want to stay home from work or school until the cause is determined so they don’t expose other people to an infectious agent. People who have been evaluated and know they are not contagious can make other people aware of this to reduce any concerns they might have.