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What Your Mucus is Telling You

It's that time of the year again when colds and flu are out to get you. Here's what your mucus is telling you about your health.

Mucus can be pretty annoying, embarrassing, and downright gross when you’re not feeling so good – especially if you have a cold, flu, or allergies. However, mucus actually serves an essential purpose.

Now that it’s peak season for pesky colds and flus, it’s even more important to pay attention to your mucus. How much mucus is normal? How much is too much? Whether it’s the color or thickness, this is what your muscus is telling you.

Mucus – What Is It Anyway? And What Is Its Mission?

Mucus is a slippery, gooey substance produced by your mucous membranes. Mucus-producing tissue lines your mouth, nose, throat, sinuses, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. Even though it can be yucky, it’s actually made up of 95% water, with a mix of glycoproteins, proteoglycans, lipids, and DNA.

Mucus acts as a lubricant for your body and protects these surfaces: mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract – preventing the tissue underneath from drying out. These surfaces must be kept moist; otherwise, they’ll get dry and crack, and your system won’t be functioning optimally. It also acts like flypaper, trapping unwanted substances like bacteria and dust before they get into your body.

See, mucus is so much more than just a sticky goo. It contains antibodies that help the body recognize invaders like bacteria and viruses, enzymes that kill the invaders it traps, and proteins that make the mucus gooey and stringy and very inhospitable.

What Your Muscus is Telling You

The Amount

Did you know that the average person produces around 1 to 1.5 liters of mucus every day, even when completely healthy? But when you’re feeling well, you probably don’t even notice that you’re constantly swallowing it, and it’s being dissolved in your stomach. Behind the scenes, though, it’s keeping your body running! But when you’re not feeling well, this mucus becomes a lot more noticeable!

Anything from allergic reactions and respiratory infections like colds and sinus infections may cause your body to produce more mucus. Eating spicy food could even trigger increased mucus production. When you think about it, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

If mucus protects your body from outside threats, anytime your body experiences something outside of the norm, your body’s defenses kick in, and this amps up your mucus production!

Want to get rid of that cold in 24 hours or less? Here are some top tips.

The Thickness

The thickness of mucus can give doctors insights into why you’re unwell. For instance, if your nose won’t stop running, it might be allergies or a cold. But on the other hand, thick mucus can be caused by dehydration. Since mucus is mainly made up of water, if you’re not hydrated or live in a dry climate, you won’t secrete as much fluid as you would if you were well hydrated or lived in more humid conditions. Your mucus thickening is also affected by certain medications, like decongestants or if you smoke.

The Color

When most people think about mucus, their biggest concern is the mucus color. Many people have been brought up to believe that yellow mucus, for instance, is always a sign of an infection. But this isn’t always true. If you’ve ever wondered why your mucus changes color, or if you’ve ever inspected the contents of a tissue after you’ve blown your nose, you may have noticed that your mucus isn’t always perfectly clear. But what do these varying colors mean?

Clear: Clear mucus is a good sign. This is healthy, normal mucus.

White: White mucus is a sign of congestion and could be a sign of a nasal infection or cold.

Yellow: Yellow mucus means your cold or infection may be progressing, and infection-fighting cells are being carried through your mucus, giving it a yellowish tinge.

Green: Green mucus is a sign that your body is really fighting something off. If you are feverish or nauseous, you should see a doctor.

Pink/Red: Pinkish or red mucus is a sign that your nasal tissue has broken and has resulted in blood in your mucus.

Brown: Brown mucus could be a sign of blood or something that you inhaled.

Black: Black mucus could be a result of smoking or drug use but is also a sign of a severe infection, and you should see a doctor.

Can You Tell If You Have COVID-19 By Your Mucus Color?

Nope. According to the CDC, the top symptoms of COVID include a dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath. Even though congestion and a runny nose are possible, colored mucus is more common if you have an infection like the flu.

Prevent the Spread

If you’re not feeling well and your mucus isn’t clear, the last thing you want to do is spread it to your loved ones and co-workers. Every time you cough or sneeze, your mucus can travel as far as six feet away from you. To prevent the spread of germs:

  • Try not to touch your face.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Clean any surfaces you regularly touch.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you sneeze or cough.

When Should You See A Doctor?

If you’ve been sick for several days and you aren’t feeling any better, schedule an appointment with a qualified medical professional through the Air Doctor app. You can talk to a doctor from the comfort of your home or in person.

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Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.