What Your Mucus Might Be Telling You

In an article written for Yahoo! Health by Maggie Puniewska, we learn what our mucus might be telling us.

When it comes to smell, it’s no doubt that the nose knows—the fact that we’re able to identify more than 10,000 scents is quite an impressive feat. But your schnoz is more that just a scent powerhouse; it can also give you a glimpse at what’s happening in your body. Curious? Just take a peak into your tissue. The color and texture of your mucus can reveal if you’re on the brink of a cold or need to visit your doc for something a bit more serious, like fungal sinus infection. Ahead, the palette of your mucus, decoded.

Thin, see-through mucus means you’re healthy. We crank out about four cups of mucus every day and its main job is to keep the lining of the nose moist and help trap particles, mold, viruses, bacteria, and pollutants, says Scott Stringer, MD, professor of otolaryngology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. To keep mucus healthy, it’s all about moisture. First, stay hydrated. In addition to the nose, you have mucus-producing tissue in your throat and mouth, and drinking water helps to prevent it from drying out. And keep the air in your home and office moist with a humidifier, especially in the winter or year-round if you live in an arid climate.

A cloudy goo points to the beginning of a cold, allergies, or dehydration. “It happens when nose hair cells have been injured by inflammation, so the mucus slows down, loses moisture, and becomes white,” says Stringer. Guzzle H2O and spritz your nostrils with saline spray (available at drugstores); it will help moisturize the nose and flush out any pesky particles.

Yellow or green
Here’s a case where you can’t judge your mucus by its color. Contrary to popular belief, green mucus doesn’t necessarily signify a bacterial infection and yellow a virus, says Stringer. “The color change depends on how much mucus is in your nose as well as how much inflammation is present.” But both colors do indicate that you’re sick and your immune system is trying to fight back. The tinge is from a large quantity of white blood cells that arrived on the scene to help battle the bug. When they die, they leave behind a green-colored enzyme that tinges your mucus.

Gold and super sticky
Mucus that’s a darker shade of yellow with a peanut butter-like consistency could point to fungal sinusitis, a type of infection caused by mold spores that get trapped in the nose. “We breathe in mold all the time and most people will clear it right down their throat but if you are allergic, it will stick, causing swelling in your nasal passages,” explains Stringer. “The spores grow and you lose moisture in the nose, which is what causes the very unusual and persistent color and texture of the mucus.” With this hue, you should see your doctor ASAP.

Red or pink
Specks of this hue are blood from broken blood vessels, which lie very close to the surface of the inside of the nose. When you blow too hard or the lining is too dry they can rupture, says Stringer.

Super-dark mucus could mean you inhaled pollutants or smoke, but it may also signal a chronic sinus infection or fungus. “Fungus likes to hang out in dead tissue and if your mucus has been backed up and accumulating, it’s the perfect environment for fungus to latch on to and hang out,” says Stringer. In any case, you should check in with your doctor.