Differing perspectives of sputum and its expectoration: a qualitative study involving patients with cystic fibrosis and physiotherapists

Physiother Theory Pract. 2011 May;27(4):278-86. doi: 10.3109/09593985.2010.501849. Epub 2010 Oct 14.


Sputum specimens are frequently requested from individuals with chronic suppurative conditions such as cystic fibrosis (CF). For a proportion of people, expectorating sputum can be difficult. Our goal was to explore the potential barriers and facilitators to expectorating sputum from the perspective of those with CF and physiotherapists involved in their care. Eighteen interviews were conducted with people who have CF and three focus groups with physiotherapists. Data were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed using a framework approach. Variation emerged in perceptions between physiotherapists and people with CF in terms of sputum's impact on everyday life and the importance of its role in managing the condition. These differences were reflected in the following themes: (1) seepage of bodily boundaries, (2) discrediting nature of sputum, (3) embodied representation of chronic illness, and (4) non-production as a decisional balance. Differing views between participants could have arisen from the personal nature of sputum for people with CF, whilst physiotherapists may see sputum specimens as a necessary part of holistic management of this condition. Education could assist individuals in overcoming some of the barriers associated with expectorating, but physiotherapists may have to individualise the collection of sputum, recognising not everyone will be at ease with this procedure.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Cost of Illness
  • Cystic Fibrosis / diagnosis
  • Cystic Fibrosis / psychology
  • Cystic Fibrosis / rehabilitation*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Perception
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Physical Therapy Specialty*
  • Professional Role
  • Qualitative Research
  • Specimen Handling / psychology*
  • Sputum*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology