What Your Mucus Can Reveal About Your Health

Whatever you want to call it — snot, boogers, phlegm, or mucus — the sticky, stringy substance that your body produces, both when you're sick and when you're not, is vital for your health. Most mucus is produced by mucous membranes in the respiratory tract, including the lungs, nose, and throat. When you're healthy, the mucus is clear and stringy, and you barely notice it. But changes in mucus, whether it's in the amount produced, or in the color of it, can indicate that your body is working to fight off unwanted germs (via WebMD).

Philip Chen, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology/rhinology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, told Livestrong, "Mucus is an important substance that the body produces to protect itself from foreign substances like viruses and bacteria. It protects the body in two ways. The first is as a physical barrier: Mucus is sticky and traps foreign particles, which the body can then sweep away like a broom. The second way is through its antimicrobial properties, as it is a water-based, sticky substance made of components like enzymes and antibodies that fight infection."

Inhaling steam can help clear mucus

So, as uncomfortable as it might be to be congested and have to reach for the tissue box all the time, rest assured that all that extra mucus is actually helping you stay healthy. That being said, mucus that is different colors can raise questions about what's going on. Yellow mucus could be a sign of dehydration, while green mucus could indicate a bacterial infection, like from a cold. Mucus that is red or brown could be the result of having blood or dirt mixed in it (via Verywell Health).

While taking measures to reduce the amount of mucus won't help you get better any faster, it can help make you more comfortable. The safest way to clear excess mucus is by inhaling warm steam, or using a neti pot or saline spray. Also, drinking plenty of fluids can help thin mucus, which is made up of 90 percent water.

Just remember that a certain amount of mucus is normal, healthy, and critical for overall health. ​​Omid Mehdizadeh, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat doctor at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told WebMD, "You never want to truly get rid of mucus. It's extremely helpful."