What is mucus?

You may call it mucus, phlegm, boogers, snot, or something cutesy. Whatever name you use for it, there’s much to learn about these little buggers.

During cold or allergy season, for example, it can seem like mucus is clogging up your sinuses, nose, and throat and just trying to ruin your life.

When you’re sneezing it out or coughing it up, mucus hardly seems like a good thing. However, mucus does have a purpose — and real benefits. Read on for useful facts about mucus that just might make you appreciate it.

What does the color of your mucus mean?

We tend to associate mucus with our noses, but it’s so much more. In fact, mucus is any viscous liquid your body produces to cover your organs and line any cavities.

A source of antiseptic enzymes, mucus shields your sinuses and:

  • Protects your stomach lining against acid.
  • Keeps food moving down your esophagus.
  • Traps dust, bacteria, and other particles in the air before they get to your lungs.

Mucus keeps your airways moist and working properly. This moisture allows mucus to trap harmful particles that you may inhale from the air. Mucus also contains enzymes or antibodies which can eliminate unwanted bacteria and viruses.

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Too Much of a Good Thing?

Typically, your body can produce a liter of this sticky stuff each day. And when you’re sick, your body makes even more mucus or it becomes thicker. When the body produces too much mucus it will need to expel it either by blowing your nose or coughing up excess.

If the insides of your nose and sinuses are inflamed, it may take longer to get rid of extra mucus. So, when you’re sick and have more mucus and it’s draining slower, it may seem intolerable — but it’s actually important. Remember that inflammation of the sinuses can make for increased pressure around the nose area of your head and will make blowing your nose more difficult or painful.

What Does the Color of Mucus Mean?

Normally, your mucus should be clear. Changes in the color of mucus sometimes can provide clues to your health. Here’s what the color of mucus indicates:

  • Cloudy or white mucus is a sign of a cold.
  • Yellow or green mucus is a sign of a bacterial infection.
  • Brown or orange mucus is sign of dried red blood cells and inflammation (aka a dry nose).

A runny nose often is referred to as rhinorrhea or rhinitis. Rhinorrhea is specifically the thin, mostly clear nasal discharge, while rhinitis is the inflammation of the nasal passages and often results in a runny nose.

If you’re producing extra amounts of mucus that make it difficult to breathe, or if you have concerns about the color of your mucus, contact your primary care doctor at UPMC.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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