Mucus membranes line the respiratory tract and sputum helps protect this tract from infection. When expelled (coughed) from the respiratory tract, sputum carries with it saliva (mouth), nasal and sinus secretions, dead cells, and normal oral bacteria. This material is what will be examined.
A note about sputum collection
Sputum specimens are usually collected on three consecutive mornings. You will be given a separate specimen container and laboratory order requisition for each specimen the doctor has ordered.
Tell the patient you will collect a specimen of sputum (not saliva) and explain the procedure to ease his/her anxiety and promote cooperation. If possible, collect the specimen early in the morning, before breakfast, to obtain an overnight accumulation of secretions.
Collecting sputum by expectoration (coughing)
1. Ask patient to rinse his/her mouth with water to reduce specimen contamination by bacteria or food particles. (Avoid mouthwash or toothpaste). For a patient with dentures, remove the dentures first.
2. Instruct the patient to sit on a chair or at the edge of the bed.
3. Ask patient to hold his/her breath a few seconds - then cough directly into the specimen container.
4. Carefully and tightly replace the cap. Be careful not to misthread the lid because leakage will occur. Check the top to ensure that it is secure.
5. Label the specimen with the patient's name, doctor's name, specimen type, and the date and time collected.
6. Note on specimen type that sputum was coughed.
7. Send the specimen to the laboratory immediately.
8. Refrigerate the specimen if a delay of greater than one to two hours is anticipated.
Instructions to the patient: collection of sputum specimens
For the best results, collect each specimen first thing in the morning before eating breakfast.
1. Rinse the mouth out with water to reduce specimen contamination. Do not use mouthwash or toothpaste. If you wear dentures, remove the dentures first.
2. Sit on a chair or at the edge of the bed.
3. Hold breath a few seconds, then cough directly into the specimen container.
4. Carefully and tightly replace the cap. Check the top to ensure that it is secure.
5. Write your name, your doctor's name, specimen type, date and time collected on the container.
6. Send specimen with laboratory requisition immediately to the lab.
7. Refrigerate the specimen if a delay of more than one to two hours is expected.