Mucus Color Meaning and Other Facts about Mucus
Mucus is a slippery, gel-like liquid produced by mucous membranes in the body in order to lubricate organs and systems warding off foreign invaders in the forms of viruses, bacteria, allergens and environmental toxins. Its composition presents a very complex formula including glycoproteins, water, antiseptic enzymes, antibodies, electrolytes and various organic compounds, which provide all the necessary functions. Mucus color ranging from clear to black helps decipher the clues of various health conditions.
A healthy human body produces about a quart of mucus throughout the day to keep the body functioning properly. Depending on where the mucus is produced, it takes its name after the location in the body. For example, digestive system organs produce plenty of mucus to keep foods from moving down esophagus and to protect delicate stomach lining from highly acidic environment. Bowel mucus helps fecal masses pass smoothly down through the rectum. Another example of mucus at work is cervix, which produces cervical mucus necessary to protect delicate female reproductive system from pathogens and to facilitate the movement of sperm during fertile stage. Later, when pregnancy progresses, the cervix forms a mucus plug to seal uterus and protect a developing fetus. When delivery is imminent, the mucus plug comes out signaling that labor is on its way. Mucus in eyes keeps all the tissues from drying out and additionally neutralizes allergens, dust and viruses, which may be introduced into the eyes.
Respiratory system organs in particular produce plenty of mucus to help keep everything lubricated and running smoothly. Mucus acts as oil in a perfectly functioning engine, without it the engine cannot function. Nasal mucous membranes and glands located in the nose and airways produce nasal mucus, which is necessary to help initially trap foreign particles so they do not reach lung tissues and prevent normal breathing. The term phlegm is limited to mucus produced by the lungs and coughed up with throat mucus. Another medical term for mucus used by doctors is sputum, a combination of saliva, throat and nasal mucus combined with phlegm coughed up by a patient. Mucus color, its texture and quantity are important symptoms for doctors to help figure out what might be wrong with a patient.
While it’s normal to produce clear mucus, its hyper secretion (increased production) along with change in mucus color may signal a plethora of health conditions. Analyzing a set of presenting symptoms along with mucus excreted in a rainbow of colors helps doctors get clues about a serious illness brewing or a mere cold requiring almost no medical intervention to resolve.
Abundant clear or white mucus could be the result of many things ranging from ingesting a plate of spicy Thai soup to inhaling allergens like dust and pollen, to catching a viral upper respiratory infection. Allergies are the most common reason for secreting abundant white or clear mucus color. Triggered by rapid antihistamine release, the lining of the nasal and airway passages works in overdrive trying to produce loads of sticky substance to coat allergenic invaders and expel them from the body with sneezing and coughing. Watery, itchy eyes are also a sign of mucus producing tissues fulfilling their function of neutralizing allergens from the eyes. This condition is usually remedied by taking oral antihistamines, nasal irrigation with nasal sprays and mild decongestants. Some individuals experience rhinitis (inflammation of the mucus producing membranes) due to exposure to cold or heat, sudden temperature fluctuations are followed with clear secretions from the nose and post nasal drip.
When mucus becomes especially abundant as cold progresses, it takes on a yellow and greenish tint. This happens due to the presence of white blood cells that are produced in the efforts to neutralize viruses and bacteria that attack upper respiratory organs. Warm, dark and sticky mucus is nearly ideal environment for bacteria to multiply, thrive and trigger inflammation. Even a simple viral infection can progress to a more serious bronchial or sinus infection, especially in people with weak immune system like children, elderly or individuals with chronic health conditions. Green or yellow mucus color expelled from the throat coupled with other symptoms like high fever, cough, chest pain usually signal of a bout of acute bronchitis, sinus infection or even pneumonia. Taking oral antibiotics, chest decongestants and measures to thin mucus is one of the best courses of treatment in the presence of green mucus and other symptoms witnessing of an upper respiratory system infection. However, not all conditions producing yellow or green mucus require antibiotics; patients with asthma, a chronic inflammatory condition of the lungs and bronchi, are prescribed an entirely different course of treatment. Since asthma is triggered by inflammation leading to obstruction of airways and difficulty breathing, oral steroid medications and inhalers help widen airways to allow oxygen to enter.
Brown mucus and smoking go hand in hand. Smokers inhale thousands of toxic compounds, tars and nicotine that settle on the delicate tissues of airways and lungs. In response, body starts feverishly producing overabundance of mucus to neutralize these nasty invaders. As a result, smokers are plagued with persistent cough that produces brown phlegm color. Chain smokers who have been smoking for years put themselves at a high risk of developing a progressing lung disease emphysema. Brown mucus color expectorated from the respiratory organs, shortness of breath coupled with bouts of exhausting cough are just some of the obvious symptoms of the condition. Deep down in the lung tissues, tiny air sacs are damaged by constant toxins inhaled with smoke resulting in severe lung damage requiring oxygen therapy and surgery in extreme cases.
However, if non-smokers experience brown mucus with blood-tinted secretions, it is usually a sign of trauma or broken blood vessels due to exposure to cold temperatures, high altitudes, air travel and a million other things. All these factors dry the lining of nasal tissues resulting in breakage of tiny blood vessels inside the nose. Frequent nasal irrigations with over the counter nasal saline sprays will keep nasal tissues moisturized. Moreover, people with deviated septum, an anatomical anomaly of the septum placement, suffer from common bloody mucus discharges and recurrent sinus infection due to obstruction problems making mucus escape more difficult.
Bloody phlegm is a worrisome sign and depending on mucus color intensity and quantity can help doctors pin point various health conditions that might be the underlying reasons for it. It can greatly range in its color wheel from blood-streaked, pink frothy or scarlet red phlegm. Instances of sudden and abundant bright red coughed up phlegm are considered medical emergencies and should be reported to a doctor immediately. Among such emergency conditions is a pulmonary embolism resulting from a blood clot blocking a blood vessel leading to lungs as a result from complications after major surgery, prolonged immobility or a myriad of other reasons. Tuberculosis common in third world countries also manifests itself with bouts of cough producing bloody phlegm. This disease is caused by mycobacteria eating into lung tissues that eventually results in death in progressive instances. Lung cancer is another unfortunate reason for coughing up bloody mucus color when cancer cells start taking over healthy lung tissues causing severe damage. Lung cancer is predominant in smokers, however it can affect even non-smokers exposed to second hand smoke or those living in highly polluted industrial areas.
The darkest of all mucus colors, black mucus affects coal mine workers who are exposed to daily inhalations of black coal dust and dirt. As it settles on the airways and lung tissues, body produces mucus to clear it from the system resulting in jet-black mucus. Coal miners are prone to developing a host of respiratory diseases like chronic bronchitis, emphysema and progressive chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Black lung disease could also develop due to years of exposure to coal dust leading to fibrosis of the lung tissues. Moreover, individuals involved in especially toxic working or living environments can also experience dark mucus color for similar reasons.
Black mucus color meaning is not limited to toxic exposure; certain fungal infections of the lungs can lead to similar symptoms. However, these conditions are very rare and are limited to immune compromised individuals affected by major health conditions like HIV or cancer, mucormycosis and aspergillosis can also trigger dark mucus formations.
Watch this educational video provided by TheDoctors show to find out more about most common colors of the mucus or phlegm:
In addition to all the above-described conditions, abnormally abundant and thick mucus could be produced in patients affected by a serious genetic disease called cystic fibrosis, which is triggered by gene mutations. With cystic fibrosis, patients suffer from a host of conditions triggered by accumulation of viscous mucus and inflammation. Chronic sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, gastrointestinal problems are just a short list of conditions experienced with this mucus disorder producing mucus color in white, yellow and green tints.
As you can see mucus color and quantity are some of the precious clues our bodies give us to help figure out what might be going wrong with inside. Knowing all these important symptoms can prevent progression of many dangerous health conditions.