What does your mucus say about your health?


What does your mucus say about your health?

A runny nose can be annoying, but mucus can help protect you from illness and serve as an indicator of what may be ailing you.
With flu, COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses common this time of year, a drippy nose may have you reaching for tissue, but mucus isn’t always linked to an ailment. The slippery, slimy fluid comes from mucus membranes inside the respiratory tract, which includes the nose, mouth, throat and lungs.
“Mucus plays an important role in your body by helping to lubricate and moisturize, trapping and expelling irritants and helping to prevent and combat illness,” explains Tidelands Health nurse practitioner Crystal Connors, who offers care at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Murrells Inlet. “It can also be an indicator of conditions such as pneumonia, COPD or asthma.”

Color and consistency

Mucus can vary in color and texture. It can be slimy, goopy, runny or sticky. Its color and consistency alone shouldn’t be used as a diagnostic tool, but it can offer clues that can help you decide whether to seek medical care, Connors says.

  • Thin and clear mucus is normal, although overproduction could be a sign of allergies. This mucus is mainly water-based with a mixture of salt, proteins and antibodies. Your body is constantly churning out mucus, most of which slides down the throat and dissolves in the stomach.
  • White mucus can signal a respiratory infection, inflammation caused by bronchitis or sinusitis or could be a symptom of COPD or GERD. Mucus can become white with the presence of white blood cells, which act to defend against infection. This may occur when nasal passages swell and hamper the flow of air, creating an environment ripe for infection.
  • Yellow or green mucus can indicate that your body is actively fighting infection. If it’s accompanied by fever, consider seeking medical care. If green mucus doesn’t clear up after 10 days, it may have evolved into an infection such as sinusitis and require prescription medication to treat.
  • Brownish mucus in the respiratory tract can be caused by chronic inflammation, inhaling dirt or cigarette smoke. It can also signal a bacterial infection.
  • Black mucus can be caused by cigarette smoke, excessive inhalation of dust or dirt or a fungal infection, although rare.

Managing mucus production

Increasing water intake can help thin secretions, Connors says. To keep mucus flowing, over-the-counter medicines such as Mucinex, an expectorate, may be helpful. To dry up overactive mucus secretion, consider an antihistamine such as Claritin.
Nasal saline mists or sprays, a humidifier or steam can also be helpful.
Of course, if you have concerns about your condition, seek medical care or schedule an appointment with a Tidelands Health physician. In case of emergency, call 911.

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