What Can The Color Of Your Snot Tell You About Your Health

Ever had a runny nose? During these unprecedented pandemic times, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been taking a closer look at the kleenex after I blow my nose.

Don’t try and tell me you don’t look. Looking is normal. In fact, the color and consistency of your snot or mucus allow us to form some general conclusions on our health.

Side-note what if you check and the snot is not in the tissue? Time to panic-browse your clothes and hands!

Photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash

What exactly is snot?

Well to start with, the lining of the nose and sinuses makes a liter or more of snot per day! Most of our snot mixes with our saliva and gets swallowed. Why do we make so much? Well, it does a lot for our bodies.

You can start to think of your snot as your body’s own moisturizer that it makes itself. Mucus can be found on the tissue within our body. The lining of your nose, your sinuses, and your mouth all come into contact with the outside world, and the tissue that lines your mouth, nose, and sinuses is called ‘mucosa’ and gets cracked and chapped when it’s dried out. Mucous, therefore, plays an important role in keeping you healthy.  

Snot starts out inside your nose. Your mucous membranes make mucus which is made up of mainly water, protein, salt, and a few chemicals. Mucus is not only made in your nose, it’s also made in your mouth, sinuses, throat, and gastrointestinal tract. It has a slimy, sticky consistency and traps potentially harmful substances in the environment, such as pollen, viruses, and germs.

“Mucus helps flush out substances like dirt, dust or bacteria before they can get into the lungs and cause irritation or breathing problems,” says Olga Rose, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Oceanside. “It can also help keep you from inhaling viruses that can make you sick.”

Mucus also contains elements of the immune system (such as white blood cells and antibodies) that kill any bothersome trespassers it catches. So snot is the liquid that drips out your nose or down the back of your throat. When you are sick there is more of it because your body is trying to get it out. Boogers, on the other hand, are the harder, thicker bits found up your nose. They are made from the mucus that has been exposed to dust, pollen, bacteria, and other substances that you breathe in through your nose which has dried out from the air you breathe. Producing snot is a key method your body uses to fight allergies and colds.

Perfect, now we know more about boogers, snot, and mucus. Generally, what we want to see in tissue after we give our honker a blow is clear or whitish mucus. However, that is not always the case.  Depending on what you have come in contact with, you might see something very different. Here’s a little guide I have put together that will explain what the colors may indicate.

White Colored Mucus

Are you feeling a little more congested than usual? Is the color of said mucus white? This could indicate that you are in the early stages of a cold. Being stuffed up leads to a loss of water content in your snot and it can become thick and cloudy. Basically, there is an increased concentration of white blood cells, which fight infection in your mucus.

Yellow Colored Mucus

If you see yellow in that kleenex, this could be a sign that a virus has taken hold. Not to fear though, the yellow color means that your body is fighting back. The yellow color indicates that white blood cells fought off offending germs, have completed their mission and, since their work is done, the body has discarded them via the snot highway (your nose) and tinged it a yellowish-brown.

Green Colored Mucus

If you see green, things are getting worse. Your immune system is in a battle with whatever bug or virus you have picked up. The reason for the color is that your mucus is chock a block with dead white cells and other wreckage from the battle. If the color sticks around for more than a week, you may want to see a doctor. You might have a bacterial infection. If you’re feverish or nauseated, while also having green-colored mucus, see a doctor sooner.

Brown Colored Mucus

Have you been working with plants or with dirt? Are you a smoker? Do you live in an area of high pollution? Dirt particles or residue resulting from smoking or pollution cause your mucus to have a brown color. It could also be an indication that you had a nose bleed and it has dried out.

Red or Pink Colored Mucus

Red or pink snot comes from blood. Is it really dry in your home or work? When your nasal passage is dry or irritated, typically, it bleeds. In cold dry weather, this is very common and can often be rectified with a humidifier or nasal mist. During pregnancy, women can experience bloody snot. This may be due to blood volume increases, hormones, or swollen nasal passages.

You should also see your doctor if you:

  • have difficulty breathing
  • bleed for more than 30 minutes
  • produce more than about 1 tablespoon of blood

Black Colored Mucus

If your tissue is filled with black mucus you are likely a heavy smoker or you live in a highly polluted city. Rarely, black snot can be a sign of fungal infection. There are four types of fungal infections that affect the sinuses, and they each need serious medical intervention to be cleared up. If you notice this color when you blow your nose, you should consult a doctor, especially if you are not a smoker and live in the country.

Remember: the color of your mucus is a broad indication of what might be going on in your body. It can be difficult to tell what’s going on and the color of your snot isn’t a perfect indicator. Listen to what your body is telling youIf you’re not feeling well go see a doctor.