Why is My Mucus Green?

May 13, 2024

by  | May 13, 2024 | Healthy Living

You are desperately trying to breathe—but your nose, and what feels like buckets of green mucus, are making it nearly impossible. Trail running is your favorite way to exercise, but it’s been a no-go for the last few days. It’s hard to run while holding a box of tissues. Concerned you might have a sinus infection; you are considering whether you should schedule a doctor’s appointment. And while you are thinking about it, you begin to wonder what the point of mucus is anyway. All it seems to cause you is trouble.

What Does Mucus Do?

As annoying as mucus is, clogging the throat and draining out the nose, it is a critical line of defense against the germs and allergens that make you sick. Mucus is mostly water, but it also contains sugars, proteins, and molecules that help keep harmful germs from settling in. Mucus is what gives fish a slime coat that protects them from bacteria and allows snails to glide across surfaces. In the human body, glands on the mucus membrane, the mucosa, make the mucus that lines the tissue of your nose, throat, sinuses, eyeballs, intestines, and even your lungs. It is estimated that the body makes almost four cups of mucus a day. Usually, we don’t even think about it, but here are 4 things mucus does for you.

  1. Moisturizes
  2. Traps
  3. Protects
  4. Repels

Mucus protects the sensitive lining of our airways by trapping dust, allergens, and other microorganisms and filtering them out of the body. It also adds humidity to air as it moves into our lungs. If any foreign substances make it into the lungs, tiny hairlike cells, cilia, beat together and move them out. They are sneezed or coughed out, or moved to the back of the throat where they slip down into the stomach. The mucus in your nose also has a more pleasant function—it helps you smell by grabbing aromas and moving them up to the smell receptors high in the nose.

When the white blood cells in the mucus meet an undesired organism, bacteria, or allergen, they produce enzymes to help repel them. The enzymes produce a yellow or green color which can become darker and stickier, especially as it sits while you are sleeping. Inflammation causes an increase in mucus production and dehydration contributes to thicker, stickier mucus. When inflammation is present or a host of invading bacteria or viruses, bacteria-fighting white blood cells crowd the nostrils which adds thickness to the mucus.

Does The Color of My Mucus Tell Me Anything?

Once you become sick or are exposed to an allergen you begin to feel bad and become much more aware of your body’s mucus production. Not only does production seem to ramp up and thicken up, but it also often changes color. But can the color tell you definitively what is going on?

Under normal circumstances, mucus runs clear and thin. Exposure to frigid air, spicy food, the common cold, or even an allergen can cause a runny nose with clear mucus. When your mucus begins to change color or consistency, it tells you something else is going on. Sometimes a color change is related to your environment. If there is air pollution or if it’s a dry, windy day, you might see some brown from all the dirt and dust, and you might even see some blood due to dried-out nasal passages. If it’s springtime and you’ve been out all day and the yard is covered in tree pollen, your mucus might take on a green hue.

Inflammatory cells and enzymes released due to irritation or sickness can turn mucus yellow or green. While green or yellow mucus can point to a potential infection, it doesn’t always. Your mucus can thicken and turn yellow or green as iron-laden enzymes fight the invaders. The changing color of the mucus can let you know a battle is taking place, but it can’t tell you if an invader has made it through your body’s protective mechanisms and into your tissue. When some people get sick their mucus remains clear.

More important than the color, it’s important to pay attention to the consistency, amount of mucus, and how you feel. If you get dehydrated or have been exposed to something your body considers harmful mucus production ramps up. Thickening mucus that isn’t able to move as easily paves the way for bacteria and viruses to multiply inside you which increases the chances of infection. If there is an infection, you will likely experience symptoms like congestion, sinus pressure, and headache.

Too Much Mucus?

Remember, mucus is your friend and it’s important to let it do its job, but if you are struggling with an excess of mucus and you feel you need a little help, try these options:

  • Wet a washcloth with warm water and apply it to your face.
  • Fill a bowl with steaming water, place a towel over your head, and lean over the bowl to breathe in the steam and loosen mucus. Remember to keep your head a safe distance above the bowl.
  • Take a steaming hot shower.
  • Use a nasal saline spray or rinse to clear out mucus and ease your breathing. If making your own, only use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water.
  • Consider over-the-counter medications. Antihistamines can help if your mucus is caused by allergies. Expectorants can thin mucus to help clear it from your chest. Decongestants shrink blood vessels, so you produce less mucus. (Be careful about overusing them, as they can make the problem worse.)

If you are still sick with a runny nose or congestion and fever visit us today!

(If your child is experiencing excess mucus production, avoid over-the-counter remedies as they have not been proven effective. Chest and vapor rubs can increase mucus production and can be dangerous for young children.)

Do I Need Antibiotics?

Antibiotics help cure bacterial infections, but most sinus infections result from viruses. This means that even if you are prescribed antibiotics for a suspected viral infection, they won’t make you feel better any sooner. You might feel progressively better as you take the antibiotics, but the reality is that you are likely feeling better at the pace the virus would naturally pass through your system.

When antibiotics might be needed:

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • You have a high fever of 104°F or higher that isn’t improving
  • Thick discharge that is uniformly white (that is, it looks like pus)
  • The infection drags on for more than 10 days, or if it gets worse after a week
  • You see more than a hint of blood
  • Severe symptoms that do not respond to over-the-counter sinus and cold remedies

No one likes to be sick, especially with coughing, sniffles, and sinuses that feel like they are stuffed with socks. You can limit your chances of contracting an illness through good hygiene like regular handwashing and even by wearing a mask in crowded places. The good news is that viruses last only a short time which means you’ll soon be out the door and back happily cruising your favorite trails.

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