A runny or stuffy nose is a pain, but this extra mucus helps your body stay healthy.
“Mucus is an important substance the body produces to protect itself from viruses and bacteria,” says Philip Chen, MD, an ear, nose, and throat doctor at UT Health San Antonio. “It’s sticky and traps foreign particles, which the body can then sweep them up like a broom.”
It also contains special proteins and antibodies that fight germs.
Your body makes a lot of this gooey, sticky substance, even when you’re not sick. Mucus prevents parts of your body from drying out. It’s in your mouth, nose, and sinuses. It also lines many of your tissues.
“We produce 1 to 1.5 liters of mucus per day,” says Chen. “He swallowed a lot of it and we don’t even know it.”
But when you don’t feel well, the mucus becomes clearer.
“The healthiest type of mucus is watery and clear fluid,” says Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an ear, nose, and throat doctor at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Other colors he can convert are:
white. Feel the cold coming? Objects in your nose may become thicker and appear white. It could be a sign that your body is pumping out white blood cells to fight infection.
green or yellow; This shade is usually a sign that you have an infection of some sort, such as a cold or the flu. “The green color comes from the protein released by the inflammatory cells,” Mehdizadeh says. “It’s a toxin that kills germs trying to get in.”
red or pink. If you are sick and cough a lot, you may notice blood-tinged mucus. This can come from broken blood vessels in your nose or throat. In some cases, it can also be a sign of cancer. Your doctor can do tests to find the cause.
brown or black; Dark-colored mucus could indicate an infection. It is also common in heavy smokers or people who are around smoke or coal dust at their work. This type of mucus is also seen in people with chronic lung disease. The color comes from a combination of blood and infections in the lungs.
White, green, or yellow mucus can clear up on its own, but if you also have a sore throat, fever, or chills, tell your doctor. They should also know if your mucus turns any other shade or is too stringy.
How do you find comfort?
As your body fights the infection, rinsing with saline or salt water helps get rid of some of the excess mucus.
The neti pot and squeeze bottle “appear to be more effective than nasal sprays or bulb syringes,” says Andrew Kim, MD, medical director of the Allergy and Asthma Centers of Virginia.
If you make the brine mixture yourself, do not use water directly from the tap. They may contain germs that will make you sick if they get into your nose. Use only sterile or distilled water. “You can boil water at home to make it sterile, but cool it down before you use it,” Kim says.
The steam from a hot shower thins the mucus. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids as well – this will help break them up.
While over-the-counter decongestants may allow you to breathe better, “they don’t actually reduce mucus production,” says Chen.
For children in daycare or school who catch a new cold every 6 to 8 weeks, saline sprays and suction lamps are the safest way to manage mucus. If your child seems very tired or has a high temperature, call your doctor right away.
In the meantime, don’t think that your nose should be completely free of mucus. “You don’t really want to get rid of the mucus,” Mehdizadeh says. “It is very useful.”