What does the colour of your mucus mean and what does it say about your health?


The gooey substance is produced by special cells in your nose to keep dust, bacteria and other foreign particles from entering your lungs

Doris Wai |

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The mucus in your nose serves many functions. Its colour can tell you and your doctor a lot about what’s going on in your body. While this is not enough to diagnose anything outright, it offers a unique glimpse into your body’s strange ways of telling you that something’s up.

Clear mucus

Clear mucus is totally normal. The body naturally produces about 1.42 litres of it every day – enough to fill a large ice cream container. It keeps your nasal passages lubricated and germ-free by acting as a moisturising barrier against dehydration and foreign objects, including bacteria and viruses. But if the amount drastically increases, it could mean you’re suffering from allergies or the start of a cold or flu.

White mucus

This could mean a bunch of different things. Most often it means that your nasal passages are irritated and swollen, restricting mucus flow and causing it to dry out. This could be due to a nasal infection or a cold. But dairy products, allergies, and eating dehydrating foods such as coffee, tea, and alcohol can also turn your mucus white. Acid reflux (also known as heartburn) or dry conditions may also be the culprit.

Yellow mucus

When you have an infection, your immune system’s white blood cells rush to the site to fight and destroy the pathogenic invader. After they’ve done their job and die, they’re flushed out of your body with your mucus, and in the process can dye it yellow. Yellow mucus doesn’t mean that you need antibiotics, but it means your body is fighting something; possibly a cold. At this point, you may want to wait it out and hope things don’t improve after 10 to 14 days.

Green mucus

Your mucus can turn green from the even larger build-up of dead white blood cells. This potentially means that your body is using many reinforcements to fight the infection, and perhaps it’s losing the battle. This is especially true if your mucus has been green for a few weeks or longer. If that’s the case, you should see your doctor; especially if you have a fever or feel nauseated.

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Red mucus

Bloody mucus signals that there’s a lot going on in your nasal passages, including dryness and irritation, and the tissues have become damaged. This be due to allergies, infection, and lots of blowing or rubbing. Physical trauma – like walking into a wall, face-first – can also turn your snot red

Brown mucus

When blood from your nasal lining dries, it can mix with the mucus and turn brown. But brown mucus isn’t always because of blood. It could also be dirt, dust, or discolouration from inhaling smoke. If you’re coughing up brown mucus, though, you should see a doctor because this could be a sign of bronchitis (or inflammation of the bronchial tubes which carry air from your nose to your lungs).

Black mucus

Black mucus can materialise after inhaling dirt or dust; or after smoking cigarettes. It can also signal a serious fungal infection, especially if you have a compromised immune system. If your mucus is black for no obvious reason, you should see a doctor. This is especially true if you have a fever, chills, or have difficulty breathing.