May 9, 2009 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I have a gross question about having a productive cough. I've never asked a doctor, since I don't believe it's important, but I've wondered all my life, and now that I have another one, it's come up again. (Literally.)

When you're coughing up matter, sometimes it comes out in thick, tough fragments, as if you're coughing up skin -- which of course you aren't, but a sore throat makes it feel that way. What is that? Why?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What colour is the stuff you're coughing up?
posted by kitcat at 10:20 AM on May 9, 2009

This is interesting to me, since I have coughed up all manner of objects in my life, including something that looked like a ribbed superball ringed with bloody streaks. (Top that, hackers!)

Consult this. It will depend not just on consistency, but also on smell. Could be catarrh; could be lung.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:23 AM on May 9, 2009

Well, unless I'm missing something about this question I think it's plausible that the throat is just hypersensitive when it's sore, or the usual mucous coating that dampens the feel of phlegm is partly absent.
posted by crapmatic at 10:43 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are lots of phagocytic white blood cells in your lungs and they go into overdrive during a bacterial respiratory infection gobbling up bacteria and dead/dying cells.

These phagocytes (neutrophils, macrophages, others) can upregulate cell surface adhesion molecules that make them sticky to different kinds of tissue, some of which can be other phagocytes.

Just speculating here - but it would make sense for phagocytic cells that are "full" to make themselves sticky to other phagocytic cells that are also full - but not to other tissue. This way, the cilia in the lung can transport masses of full/depleted cells up to your throat to be expectorated away.

Hmm, I think next time I get a bad chest cold and am productive, to save some of the expectorate, mount on glass slide, stain, and take a peek under the 'scope to see if there are flocks of cells with turgid vesicles...
posted by porpoise at 8:04 PM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that what you're coughing up is actually a tonsillolith? They build up in holes in your tonsils, particularly during an infection, and sometimes a good hard cough will knock one loose. They look gross. They smell gross. They are purported to be harmless. But I got so sick of them that I had a tonsillectomy to get rid of them.
posted by wabbittwax at 3:44 PM on May 10, 2009

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