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Phlegm: The Yucky Tale it Tells


Phlegm: The Yucky Tale it Tells

Runny noses, excessive sneezing, mucus, snot, post nasal drip boogies and more. Gross, I know, but it still happens to everyone because your body is trying to tell you something.

Mucus-producing tissue lines the mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. Mucus acts as a protective blanket over these surfaces, preventing the tissue underneath from drying out. Mucus also acts as a sort of flypaper, trapping unwanted substances like bacteria and dust before they can get into the body — particularly the sensitive airways. But mucus is more than just sticky goo. It also contains antibodies that help the body recognize invaders like bacteria and viruses, enzymes that kill the invaders it traps, protein to make the mucus gooey and stringy and very inhospitable, in a variety of cells.

Even when you’re healthy, your body produces about 1 to 1.5 liters of mucus every day. Usually you don’t even notice it; however, there are times when you do notice your mucus, not because you’re producing more of it, but because its consistency has changed.

It generally takes a bad cold, allergy, or contact with something irritating to increase your body’s mucus production. During an allergic response to an offending trigger, such as pollen, dust or ragweed, mast cells in your body squeeze out a substance called histamine, which triggers sneezing, itching, and nasal stuffiness. The tissue of the mucus membranes starts leaking fluid and your nose begins to run with clear mucus.

You may have noticed that your mucus isn’t always perfectly clear. It may be yellow, green, or have a reddish or brownish tinge to it. What do those colors mean? The color of the mucus says a lot about what is going on in your body.

  • Yellow phlegm typically means a viral infection and it has a thicker consistency
  • Green Phlegm may indicate a bacterial infection
  • Reddish or brownish phlegm may be from a dry nose, or irritated nose

Yellow phlegm is produced by your body as it fights bacteria. Although your nose may have been running and clear during the initial days of your cold the color changes and the fight continues.

Green Phlegm has a consistency that is typically thick like molasses and sticks in your throat. When you have a cold, your immune system sends white blood cells called neutrophils rushing to the area. These cells contain a greenish-colored enzyme, and in large numbers they can turn the mucus the same color.¬† If you do have an infection, you’ll likely also have other symptoms, such as congestion, fever, and pressure in your face.

Reddish or brownish blood colored mucus may be present, especially if your nose gets dried out or irritated from too much rubbing, blowing, or picking. Most of the blood comes from the area right inside the nostril. A small amount of blood in your mucus isn’t anything to worry about, but if you’re seeing large volumes of it, call your doctor.

A method for removing mucus is with nasal irrigation. You may also try aromatherapy to relieve sinus congestion. Nourish your immune system to help support the normal functioning of your mucous membranes. A hot cup of tea can bring relief and help to thin out mucus making it easier to expel.  Remember if you get sick, it snot funny but now you know more about it your phlegm and what it could mean.

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