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Lung diseases

Four months of greenish brown sputum

05/18/2009

Question:

I have been very sick for 4 months. Caughing up huge lumps of greenish brown stuff, and blowing it out my nose as well. I have seen my doctor throughout this time with no answers. He has had me on two courses of antibiotics and now a third. I have had lung x-rays, blood tests, respiratory blow tests, and sputium test, all showing no infection yet I just keep getting sicker with flu-like symptoms and low fever. Yesterday I went back to my doctor and found out that the sputium test that was done on march 12 actually came back from the lab stating heavy growth of e-coli. Somehow that slipped through the cracks. I have had no intestinal symptoms at all. I am assuming it is in my lungs. How could I have gotten this and kept it for four months, even through two courses of antibiotics? What can I do to get rid of it? I am seeing a pulminary specialist next tuesday yet I am now having a hard time trusting my doctors with my health. I fear the worst. I have young children and need desperatly to get well. Please help. Also, could mold and mildew have anything to do with this?

Answer:

For people with a cough lasting more than 4 weeks, the most common causes are asthma, smoking-related, heart-burn related and post-nasal drip. If a cough is productive or not, does not seem to help us distinguish what is causing the cough. Without a pneumonia on chest X-ray, I am unsure what to make of the E. coli in your sputum. It may be a red herring. Also important is if there was pus in your sputum and/or the amount of bacteria that grew. Because you are also having nasal drainage, it makes me think about sinusitis/rhinitis - which may be allergic and then could be linked to mold/mildew. I think it is a good idea to see a lung doctor. He/she may try a antihistamine to reduce the drainage and, hopefully, reduce the cough.

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Response by:

James M O'Brien, Jr, MD James M O'Brien, Jr, MD
Former Associate Professor
Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University