What Does My Snot Mean?

Cold and flu season is here and with that comes a runny nose and mucus — or what most of us call snot. Have you ever wondered why our bodies need mucus and how to tell what your snot means by the color of it? Here’s everything you need to know about the stuff up your nose.

Why We Need Mucus

WebMD spoke to Dr. Michael M. Johns, III the director of the Emory Voice Center at Emory University about mucus: “Mucus is incredibly important for our bodies. It is the oil in the engine. Without mucus, the engine seizes.” So, it is apparent we all have and need mucus.

Mucus-producing tissue helps line the mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract, according to WebMD, and “acts as a protective blanket, preventing the tissue from drying out.” Mucus also contains antibodies and traps bacteria. However, how can you tell if your snot means you should visit a doctor at an urgent care clinic?

Types of Mucus

There are various types of mucus, including:

  • Phlegm – Found in the throat, often coughed up.
  • Snot – Mucus found in the nose.
  • Sputum – Mucus mixed with saliva and usually coughed up.
  • Postnasal Drip – Mucus that runs from your sinus cavity down the back of your throat.

When these types of snot change color, retail clinics with family physicians can often tell the reason behind the change by the color and other symptoms.

Mucus Colors and What They Mean

Because doctors look to the color of mucus to diagnose a condition, it’s important we understand what each color of mucus reveals.

  • Clear – If your mucus is clear, it’s likely normal. If you notice an excess of clear mucus, find an urgent care near you, as excessive clear mucus may be a sign of allergy problems.
  • White – If your mucus is white, it is probably no cause for concern. Drinking dairy products high in fat can thicken your mucus or turn it white.
  • Yellow – Once mucus turns yellow, it may mean you have a sinus infection or a virus, such as a cold or the flu. There are varying degrees of yellow mucus. Light to bright yellow may mean flu or cold, and gold or dark yellow may indicate a sinus infection, bronchitis or an upper respiratory infection. Still, yellow mucus may just mean you are fighting off a virus. During cold and flu season, it’s best to perform an Internet search on “urgent care near me” so you can gain the correct diagnosis. If you have a fever with yellow mucus, it is always best to see a physician.
  • Green – If your mucus turns green it may indicate a fungal or bacterial infection and you should visit a walk-in clinic for the right diagnosis and treatment. Green mucus begins when a white blood cell interacts with bacteria and kills the cell. Once dead, certain types of white cells release a green colored pigment that blends with the mucus giving it a green hue. With green mucus, you may also experience inflamed sinuses, fever, and sinus pressure or headache.
  • Blue – Believe it or not, there is a bacteria known as Pseudomonas pyocyanea that can turn mucus blue. Fortunately, this only happens to approximately one in 10,000 people. See a doctor immediately if your mucus is blue as it could be an infection or you may have inhaled something that caused your mucus to change color.
  • Red/Orange/Brownish – When mucus turns a reddish, orange, or brownish color, it may mean there is blood blended in the mucus. If your mucus is one of these colors it could mean inflammation or sores in the nose or nasal cavity. Some people who suffer from asthma can develop red, orange, or brownish mucus. If you have phlegm that is this color and you are coughing it up, you may have an upper respiratory infection.
  • Brown – People who smoke are more prone to brown mucus as smoking irritates the nasal cavities. If you smoke, visit an urgent care center to speak with a doctor on how to quit.
  • Black or Gray – Pollution and other particles in the air can cause black or gray mucus. Black or gray mucus can also come from those who work in dusty or smoky environments without wearing the proper nose and mouth protection.

Now that you know what the varying colors of snot mean, you’ll know what’s normal and when it’s time to see out a professional for medical treatment.

Michael Barber is an internet entrepreneur and respected healthcare marketer. Following his stint leading one of the nations foremost digital marketing agencies, Barber started Urgent Care Locations as a national directory of walk-in clinics allowing patients to find over 7,500 clinical providers and rate and review their experiences.

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