Nasal Mucus a/k/a Snot

25 October 2023

We’ve all experienced a runny nose once in a while. Coming in from the cold; allergies; picking up a bug, or just some odd smell. You probably realize that the nasal discharge is sometimes a different color or texture, which can be the result of injury, infection, or other health conditions.

Nasal mucus protects the nose and sinus passages from dust, bacteria, and other elements in the environment. As the nose produces this discharge, the mucosal membrane swells and produces what the medical community refers to as rhinitis. The texture is a direct connection with the moisture content in your nose and sinus.

Let’s look at some of the things that can affect the color of, well, snot.

  • White – Simple congestion or stuffiness will be white. The congestion causes the mucus to lose water content. That is why it looks cloudy and somewhat thick. These are indications that there is some type of cold or other infection on its way. In any where from one to three days after exposure to a virus, this symptom will appear. It is common and should cause no concern.
  • Yellow – You are now fighting an infection of some sort. The white blood cells are gearing up to combat whatever germs are invading your system. As the white cells do their thing, they are discarded by the body and appear dark, yellowish.
  • Green – This is when your immune system is kicking up a notch to fight an infection. Those same white blood cells are working harder and the waste product becomes green and usually thicker. The infections could be caused from a virus or bacteria. If you have inhaled some foreign substance, this can also cause the immune system to gear up. It should clear up when the offending substance has gone away and your symptoms are gone.
  • Pink or Red – If you have been blowing your nose a lot ot had a hit to the nose, there is some blood flow. Sometimes pregnant women are known to have a nosebleed. To prevent this, try blowing your nose less forcefully. You can also use a saline spray or apply an ointment into the passages. Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier also generally helps. Bloody discharge in those who are pregnant is probably because the blood volume increases at that point, hormones are over producing, or the nasal passages are swollen.
  • Brown or Orange – This is some old blood being expelled from the body. Or, if you have been working in the garden and inhaled an inordinate amount of dust, or if you use snuff, or even smelled too much of a colored substance (like paprika), the discoloration shows up.
  • Black – If you smoke or live in a household where there is a heavy smoker or multiple smokers, your discharge could look very dark. If you are in an area with heavy air pollution, that could also be a cause. If these are not applicable, there are some fungal infections that could affect the sinus, usually in those with compromised immune systems. Check with your doctor.

Color is not the best indicator of whether or not to see the doctor. A better gauge is the duration of the discharge, worsening, and other symptoms. Most colds run a pattern of five to ten days with the peak between days three and five. A bacterial infection, however, will last longer and continues beyond a week and a half. Other symptoms may include: fever, headache, swelling around the eyes, pain, and vomiting.

So, unless you have some medical condition that warrants concern, the snot your nose produces is to help you fight the viruses and allergies around us all the time. Only be concerned if things persist or worsen.

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